Three reasons ‘Lantau Tomorrow Vision’ could fail, if ‘Greater Bay Area’ takes off
- Integration means Hongkongers may no longer need to live within the confines of an island economy physically short of land
- Economic integration can be accelerated if the Hong Kong government takes the initiative
The value of the Hong Kong government’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision will be affected by three yet-to-be-discussed factors: political reality, economic integration and Hong Kong demographics.
First, the state owns all land in China. By the time this project is completed, the end date of most land leases in Hong Kong – 2047 – will be closing in. Or will the Hong Kong government still have a free hand when the “one country, two systems” guarantee expires in 2047? It is impossible to value this land given these political unknowns.
Second, economic integration of Hong Kong with neighbouring areas in the Greater Bay Area will accelerate with the high-speed rail link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. Mega transport infrastructure facilitates ease of travel and accessibility enhances economic integration. Integration means Hongkongers may no longer need to live within the confines of an island economy physically short of land. If ease of access leads to Hongkongers migrating to the Greater Bay Area, then the latter becomes an alternate source of land supply. The greater the economic integration, the lesser the need for, and value of, Lantau Tomorrow. That’s why looking at reclamation as the key source of future land supply reflects a thinking of the past, or tunnel vision.
Third and finally, Hong Kong’s demographic is changing. In 15 years’ time, more than a quarter of Hong Kong’s population (about 2 million people) will be 65 or older. Do all these people need to spend their retirement in crowded and expensive Hong Kong real estate with all the noise and pollution? Low-density retirement community developments with health care clinics supported by ease of access to hospital services, recreation facilities, etc, in the Greater Bay Area should be quite appealing. Sell expensive Hong Kong homes and enjoy retirement with lots of money in the bank.
These projects need not be just retirement communities. Plenty of Hongkongers already work in the Greater Bay Area. Economic integration can be accelerated if the Hong Kong government takes the initiative to work out with Beijing and the local authorities, leasing land lots in suitable hubs in the Greater Bay Area and spearheading the development of Hong Kong-run hospitals, clinics, schools and other public facilities. The private sector will do much of the rest.
Public services funded by taxes collected by the Hong Kong government would be available only to holders of Hong Kong residence cards. Services run by the for-profit private sector could be open to all, including mainland residents.
Leasing land in the Greater Bay Area will cost less and be more flexible than a HK$500 billion land reclamation project. If transport logistics and support services lead to good economic integration, this project may well become a mega white elephant hardpressed to find 1.1 million residents who can afford its costly space.
H.H. Fung, North Point