John Lee policy address 2022
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Hong Kong’s government could use infrastructure projects to get the economy back on track. Photo: Nora Tam

Hong Kong’s John Lee expected to announce ‘work on major rail, road projects’ to revive economy, boost jobs

  • Planning and design for cross-border rail link to Qianhai will be brought forward, source says
  • Construction industry insiders welcome major projects, but warn of acute manpower shortage

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu is expected to announce major infrastructure projects in his coming policy address, aimed at reviving the city’s battered economy and creating tens of thousands of jobs, the Post has learned.

Sources said he would highlight six projects – three rail links and three highways.

They include bringing forward detailed planning and route design for the Hong Kong-Shenzhen West Rail Link connecting Hung Shui Kiu and Qianhai, the economic zone in Shenzhen.

Beijing has ambitions for Qianhai to become a world-class business centre by 2035, with plans to expand the economic zone from 14.9 sq km (3,706 acres) to 120.6 sq km.

Mainland Chinese officials have said the plan offered Hong Kong prospects to grow its economy and create new opportunities for young people.

Chief Executive John Lee is expected to boost transport infrastructure to extend connections with mainland China. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

An insider told the Post the cross-border rail project would be a joint venture between the Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments, with each bearing the cost of building on their side.

The project would go before the Legislative Council soon, before tenders were called, the source added.

Another key project is the Central Railway, a rail short cut between New Territories East and New Territories West.

It will connect Yuen Long in the east and Kwai Chung and Kowloon Tong in the west, cutting travel time between either end of the New Territories where new town developments are planned.

Lee must turn the Northern Metropolis vision into a real plan

The other initiatives Lee is expected to highlight are the construction of the Tseung Kwan O rail line extension, Trunk Road T4 in Sha Tin, Northern Highway, and the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel, which is expected to be launched by the end of this year.

The Tseung Kwan O rail line extension will connect to a major new development south of the Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate.

Trunk Road T4 in Sha Tin will connect the Tsing Sha Highway and Sha Tin Road to provide a more direct link between Tsuen Wan and Ma On Shan, bypassing the downtown area of ​​Sha Tin.

The Tseung Kwan O Cross Bay Link will connect the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel to Wan Po Road. Photo: Sam Tsang

The Northern Highway will connect the city’s borders in Sha Tau Kok to the Lok Ma Chau Loop via the San Tin “technopole” and is a key feature of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park coming up at the loop.

Lee on Wednesday hinted there would be new cross-boundary railway and improvement projects at the border checkpoints, promising greater connectivity with the mainland.

“While the pandemic has created temporary limitations to travel between the mainland and Hong Kong, I can assure you that new cross-boundary railway and new boundary-control-point improvement projects are on the drawing board,” he said.

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In announcing large-scale projects to reboot the faltering economy, Lee is doing what previous city leaders have done.

In her final policy address last year, his predecessor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor outlined five railway projects, including the rail link from Hung Shui Kiu to Qianhai, to complement the development of the proposed Northern Metropolis, a massive economic, infrastructure and IT hub that is promised to create thousands of new jobs and homes.

In 2007, after the damage done to the economy by the Sars outbreak of 2003, then leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen unveiled 10 major infrastructure projects, saying a consistent infrastructure-development agenda was essential to Hong Kong’s long-term development.

Henry Cheung, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Railway Transport Professionals. Photo: Winson Wong

Henry Cheung Nin-sang, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Railway Transport Professionals, said the projects Lee was expected to announce would help to stimulate the economy as each could create 10,000 jobs.

“New infrastructure projects will certainly inject impetus into the city’s economy. They can complement the planned launch of the airport’s third runway and stimulate the flow of people and economic activities,” he said.

But he said the government needed to resolve the acute manpower shortage and plan well to avoid problems of delays and cost overruns that had occurred in the past.

He estimated that the construction industry had lost a fifth of its mid-level technical and project management staff because these people had emigrated.

“There is also an acute shortage of labour because of the city’s ageing workforce. The government needs to fill this talent and labour void,” Cheung said.

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The construction sector currently has a workforce of 333,700, according to official data, with 22,700 – or 6.4 per cent – being jobless.

The government said early this year the sector could expect a supply of about 27,000 semi-skilled and skilled workers in coming years thanks to its HK$1 billion (US$128.1 million) plan to boost training and provide the manpower needed for the building boom ahead.

The government was also expected to increase spending on public infrastructure projects gradually, reaching HK$100 billion annually in the next few years.

An insider said Hong Kong could not avoid importing foreign workers, given its major new infrastructure projects.

“If there is no import of foreign labour, there will be no way to resolve the labour shortage,” the insider said.