Hong Kong minister dispels land lease concerns when deal securing city’s freedoms expires in 2047

Development chief Paul Chan also details plans to build a third business hub off Lantau in a revised blueprint extending beyond 2030

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 12:31am

Hong Kong’s development minister has dismissed looming uncertainty over the fate of hundreds of thousands of land leases set to expire in 2047, along with Beijing’s guarantee for the city’s autonomy, assuring tenants and landlords that the government will work out a “smart” solution similar to the 1997 arrangement.

In an interview with the Post, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po also envisioned how the city could build a third major economic centre in the shape of a new metropolis on reclaimed land off Lantau, generating more space, jobs and connectivity to mainland China.

Chan said this blueprint would be included in a long-term planning vision spanning 2030 and beyond, which would be up for public consultation in October.

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The new strategy is set to replace the existing 2030 vision, which was formulated in 2007 and focused on new developments in the northeast New Territories.

Unlike the original strategy, which extended only up to 2030, the “2030 Plus” plan will not have a specific time frame. Chan did not deny speculation that this was to avoid touching 2047, when the city reaches the end of the 50-year guarantee under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that Hong Kong will enjoy its capitalist life under the “one country, two systems” formula that was adopted in 1997.

Chan said the new arrangement was to make the planning vision “more realistic”.

“I’m confident that Hong Kong will find a very smart method to deal with this,” he said. “People have no need to be afraid.”

About 350,000 land leases in the New Territories are set to expire by 2047. Chan said the government could draw on the 1997 handover experience, when all leases due that year were extended for another 50 years with 3 per cent of ratable value set as annual government rent.

We hope Hong Kong can be a liveable city, the living environment can be more decent and more climate-ready
Development minister Paul Chan

The leases of all the land sold between 1985 and 1997 will also end that year.

Chan outlined a vision for the city’s future with more elbowroom and climate-ready.

“Hong Kong will continue to be a high-density city. This is what we cannot change,” he said.

“But we hope Hong Kong can be a liveable city, the living environment can be more decent and more climate-ready, and we can create capacity to ensure the future population and economic growth.”

The idea fits in with stepped-up efforts by the Environment Bureau to address climate change, such as cutting carbon emissions and encouraging more environment-friendly neighbourhoods.

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Chan envisioned the new East Lantau Metropolis, to be built on 1,000 hectares of reclaimed land – four times the size of Cheung Chau – would complement the existing business hubs of Central and East Kowloon on either side of the harbour.

The minister explained that on the whole, the amount of land currently slated for development would be enough to accommodate the projected population growth, but there was a need for more elbow room.

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“The current living environment is crowded. If we are bolder in land provision, we can offer more space for people to live in.”

He added that the East Lantau economic centre would have a fast connection to Kennedy Town and Yuen Long by a cross-harbour railway network, creating more job opportunities for those in far-off areas like Tin Shui Wai.

With the completion of the bridge linking Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau, he noted, it would only take about 40 minutes by road from Lantau to mainland destinations such as Zhuhai, Macau and the Qianhai free-trade zone in the western Pearl River Delta, which would enhance the city’s advantage in logistics.

He also revealed that a convention and exhibition centre of about 50 hectares was being considered for the 130-hectare artificial island to the east of the airport, the future border checkpoint for the bridge.