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Hong Kong housing

Why Singapore comparisons don’t work for Hong Kong’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision artificial island plan

  • Singapore has met its housing needs through budget-friendly and environmentally sustainable means – East Lantau presents neither
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 5:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 5:03am

There are several key errors in Mr James Tam’s comparison of the fiscal positions of Hong Kong and Singapore, to burnish his and Our Hong Kong Foundation’s support for the reclamation off east Lantau over the next few decades (“Why the Lantau Tomorrow Vision is an investment in Hong Kong”, October 29).

Unlike Hong Kong, Singapore does not include revenue from land sales in its annual budget report. Instead, this income stream is treated as part of the tiny republic’s reserves for savings and investment – not expenditure and consumption – to make up for its lack of natural resources and a socio-economic hinterland.

If the Lion City had included land sales revenues in its budget statements, its average annual fiscal surpluses between 2007-2017 would surpass Hong Kong’s.

These surpluses would be even bigger if Singapore did not have to spend on big-ticket items such as defence and a significant public housing sector like its northern neighbour, notwithstanding the fact that its tax revenue base is also wider and deeper as a result of a more diversified economy and tax structure.

Singapore’s housing vision is beyond Hong Kong’s reach

A seasoned global investment banker like Mr Tam ought to know this, as well as understand that Singapore’s current national “debt” of around 1.2 times its annual GDP correlated with its decision to bolster the development of its capital markets and financial sector via the issuance of sovereign bonds in the late 1990s.

Above all, Mr Tam may also wish to note that while reclamation has contributed to about a 25 per cent increase in Singapore's land mass since 1965, near-shore reclamation – a strategy that has also been adopted by Hong Kong over the years – lies at its core.

As far as I know, the Lion City has yet to contemplate, let alone create an artificial island from scratch, as Hong Kong is planning with the East Lantau Metropolis.

Hong Kong is not short of land, says father of Singapore planning

Lantau project not just a question of money

The closest it has come to achieving this was via the amalgamation and expansion of seven offshore islands into Jurong Island to drive the growth of its oil refining and petrochemicals industry in the mid-1990s.

Since then however, Singapore has also witnessed a rising tide of eco-consciousness in government and society. For example, floating townships that tapped on its oil rig-ship building expertise are being bandied about as possible alternatives to land reclamation, while conservation efforts are underway to protect and nurture its surprisingly rich marine biodiversity as underwater parks for locals and tourists alike – how many people know that its waters are home to about one-third of the world’s hard coral species?

Any attempts by the authorities to establish a project on the scale of the East Lantau Metropolis would be viewed as a regression from the progress towards holistic and sustainable development.

John Chan, Singapore