Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge can shorten travel times and extend opportunities
Ken Chu says the long-talked-about bridge is no longer about boosting manufacturing for Hong Kong industry, but will instead bring many benefits by cutting commute times and opening up new options for travel and work
The idea of building a bridge connecting Hong Kong to Zhuhai or Macau has been around for decades. In the 1980s, Gordon Wu Ying-sheun of Hopewell Holdings and the then mayor of Zhuhai proposed the Lingdingyang bridge linking their two cities, but the idea did not come to fruition.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Beijing and Hong Kong looked into ways of boosting connectivity and shortening travel time between the special administrative region and the western part of the Pearl River Delta, and Hong Kong’s businessmen and industrialists were supportive, hoping to extend production bases to the western delta and boost Hong Kong’s container port. As a result, construction of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge commenced in 2009.
But that was then. The current economic environment and landscape are entirely different from when the bridge was on the drawing boards. At the very least, Hong Kong no longer needs land in the western delta for factories, because our manufacturing sector has languished for so long.
One of the longest bridge-cum-tunnel sea crossings in the world, the 36.3km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge spans the estuary of Pearl River with two boundary crossing facilities on two artificial islands, one off Chek Lap Kok and the other at Gongbei, Zhuhai. However, since the beginning of construction, the bridge has been saddled with one problem after another – cost overruns, project delays, destruction of the habitats of Chinese white dolphins and attempts by external consulting company staff to falsify concrete safety test results.
Regardless, the bridge is here to stay and there have been reports that it will open this year. In light of this, shouldn’t we re-examine the role the bridge can play in the long-term interests of Hong Kong and how we can better leverage it to our advantage?
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There is no doubt that the original idea for the bridge was to move goods manufactured by Hong Kong-owned factories in the western Pearl River Delta, but with the decline in our manufacturing sector, other considerations, such as promoting regional tourism, shortening commute time and fostering closer ties with the delta, grew in prominence. The number of visitors from Macau, Zhuhai and the western delta to Hong Kong is expected to grow.
Transport links between Hong Kong and cities in the western delta such as Foshan, Zhongshan and Jiangmen are undeniably weak. When going to any of these cities from Hong Kong by road or train, we currently must take a detour, travelling north to Shenzhen and crossing the Humen Pearl River Bridge.
Also, on long weekends, many Hong Kong holidaymakers go to Macau en masse for a short break, but the only way for most folks to go to the former Portuguese enclave is by sea (helicopters being a rather expensive means of travel), and it takes more than an hour by jetfoil. With the completion of the bridge, Hongkongers will be offered another way to go to Macau and, most importantly, the journey can be cut by half, making it less than the time required to travel from New Territories to the gridlocked districts in Hong Kong, such as Causeway Bay, and look for a car park.
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Likewise, the journey time from Hong Kong to Zhuhai will also be halved, effectively putting these three cities within a one-hour radius. What would be the implications for Hong Kong?
Some Hongkongers might consider moving to either Macau or Zhuhai, or even a little further, while commuting to work in Hong Kong, given the ever-soaring home prices and rents in the SAR.
Also, this mega bridge can perhaps play a role in promoting the formation of the Greater Bay Area in southern China. With some 66 million people, this Greater Pearl River Delta rivals many bay areas around the world. First mentioned in the Chinese government work report in March 2017 and later envisioned by President Xi Jinping to transform the area, the Greater Bay Area can enhance Hong Kong’s position as a global city in Asia, and as a window into the world for the remaining mainland cities in the area, in addition to Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
There certainly could be potential positive and adverse impacts on the territory after the opening of the bridge. Coming first to mind is the boost given to the development of the Lantau Island, where the northern side is earmarked for commercial and housing development, while the southern is for recreational and tourism purposes. Indeed, the bridge will further enhance Lantau’s role as a bridge between Hong Kong and the Greater Pearl River Delta. In turn, well-planned development on Lantau will harness Hong Kong’s position as an international financial, transportation and trade centre.
However, there are potential negative impacts for Hong Kong to consider. If more mainland vehicles with cross-border permits make their way into the territory, the road conditions, particularly in Lantau and New Territories West, might deteriorate. If landlords in districts such as Tuen Mun and Tung Chung see a greater flow of people and goods as a result of the bridge, this might serve as an excuse to raise home prices and rents. These are just some of the adverse impacts that our government should be prepared to tackle after the bridge opens, so as not to spoil any opportunity for Hong Kong to make the best out of the bridge.
Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference