‘Greater Bay Area’ plan could solve Hong Kong’s land needs, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and former city leader CY Leung say
Suggestions at forum centre on proximity of mainland cities under scheme, which could mean more development and living space for Hongkongers
China’s “Greater Bay Area” project could answer Hong Kong’s housing needs and address land shortage, both the city’s former leader and its current chief executive said at a forum on Wednesday.
Referring to the central government’s scheme to link cities in the Pearl River Delta into an integrated economic and business hub, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her predecessor Leung Chun-ying said the bay area project could provide opportunities for Hongkongers to look for flats, schools and care facilities for the elderly outside the space-starved city.
Lam and Leung’s remarks came as the city’s development minister suggested it would be possible for the MTR Corporation to build public housing atop one of its depots, confirming an earlier report by the Post .
During the Asia Pacific Summit held by non-profit organisation Urban Land Institute on Wednesday, Lam said the city’s limited land supply posed certain constraints, but the bay area plan could help change that.
“Without land, I can’t entertain requests for industries to [be based in Hong Kong], whether these are science and technology, or setting up another international school, or building a private hospital and so on. That is where the bay area project may come in,” she said.
“With the opening of this major infrastructure, connectivity will be enhanced. We’re talking about a [zone to live in where commute would only take an hour].”
The economies of Hong Kong, Macau and nine other cities under the bay area scheme were worth a total of US$1.58 trillion last year, covering an area of 56,000 sq km and with an estimated population of 68 million.
Leung, now the vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body, echoed Lam’s comments at the forum.
“One of the biggest constraints on the social and economic development of Hong Kong is the shortage of land that can be developed,” Leung said. “Bay area cities, particularly those on the west side of the delta, have much more land to offer.”
He said the flow of people between Hong Kong and mainland cities under the scheme would bring social benefits beyond economic development and gross domestic product growth.
“One can envision the possibility of Hongkongers having more affordable and more decent housing [in the other areas],” he said.
“For example, the 40,000 airport workers can live on the other side of the [Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau] bridge and travel across it for work.”
Leung added that private schools and care homes for the elderly could also be built there, “instead of squeezing [nursing homes for the elderly] into small institutions in Hong Kong”.
Separately on Wednesday, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun confirmed a Post report a day before that stated the MTR Corp could build public housing when developing property atop its stations with the government.
The rail giant had earlier announced that the 30-hectare Siu Ho Wan Depot on northern Lantau Island would accommodate at least 14,000 private flats.
“At present, the government is keeping an open mind. The possibility exists, but some research needs to be done before it can be decided,” Wong said. “There is flexibility on whether some units could be used for public housing, however, technical studies must be done.”
If the government and the MTR Corp proceed with public housing atop depots, it would be a first for the city as the company traditionally reaps profits from luxury property projects at its new stations.
At least four political parties in Hong Kong have openly expressed support for the plan.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun endorsed the idea, but on condition that issues of noise pollution and transport problems would be addressed.
Tien said the MTR Corp could also consider building another station at the site to alleviate congestion in the northern Lantau area.
Democratic Party legislator Andrew Wan Siu-kin, also a supporter of the plan, suggested that all of the 14,000 Siu Ho Wan flats should be converted into public housing to help ease the predicted shortfall of 43,000 flats by 2027.