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Stay tuned to “Hong Kong 2030+”

While the current term of the Government is drawing to a close, we have never slackened our efforts for the long-term development of Hong Kong. It has been over a month since we launched the public engagement on “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030” (“Hong Kong 2030+”), and I am pleased that the public and various groups are expressing their views actively through different channels. Public discussion mainly focuses on the need for continued land development, particularly the two proposed strategic growth areas (SGAs) in the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) and the New Territories North (NTN). Today I would like to share with you the planning concepts underlying the proposals and clarify some misconceptions about the need for land development.

Live closer to workplace: Achieving better home-job balance
At present, about 41 per cent of our population is living in non-metro areas (i.e. the New Territories excluding Kwai Tsing and Tsuen Wan). However, jobs in such areas only account for 24 per cent of the total employment in Hong Kong. In other words, many residents need to spend considerable time to commute to and from Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for work every day. It is not uncommon that commuters from Tuen Mun, Yuen Long or North District often spend an hour or so, for a single journey, to the traditional Core Business Districts (CBDs). The long journey is exhausting in itself, and reduces the commuters’ time for the family and leisure. To a certain extent, the considerable transportation expenses might also deter some people from joining the workforce.

From the transport and environmental perspective, in terms of emission source, the transport system accounted for about 17 per cent of Hong Kong’s greenhouse gas emission in 2013. If traffic congestion at the trunk roads and various public transport corridors during peak commute periods keeps worsening, not only will it affect the efficiency of our transport infrastructure, but also increase energy consumption and carbon emission, which could impede Hong Kong’s sustainable development in the long run.

According to the results of the 2011 Population Census, about 35.4 per cent of the working population residing in new towns lived and worked in the same district, whereas the numbers for those residing on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon were 56.3 per cent and 44.6 per cent respectively. We understand that traditional metro areas, with a longer history of development and more established economic activities, have already formed economies of agglomeration and created a great number of job opportunities. That said, on the strategic planning level, we should examine how to achieve a more balanced distribution of jobs and population. Through strategic land use planning, more land for different types of economic land use can be planned for non-metro areas to facilitate the gradual formation of economic nodes in new development areas, which can become centres of economic diversification and employment. Moreover, with close linkage to residential areas, the proportion of residents commuting to and from metro areas will decrease, and the public will see their travel pattern reshaped.

Creating loads of job opportunities

The idea of ELM and NTN proposed in the “Hong Kong 2030+” is based on the said objective of achieving better home-job balance. ELM will become the third CBD in addition to Central/Admiralty/Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon East. It can create synergy and agglomeration effects together with other developments on Lantau Island (such as Tung Chung New Town Extension and Topside Development at the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities Island of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge), providing about 200 000 job opportunities. Meanwhile, the proposed NTN development can provide about 215 000 job opportunities across different fields, including those related to the science park/industrial estates, logistics and commercial/retail facilities.

Besides providing land for economic land use, the two SGAs in ELM and NTN will also accommodate populations of about 400 000 to 700 000 and 255 000 or 350 000 respectively, which will be able to meet Hong Kong’s long-term housing needs. Assuming the development of the two SGAs is fully realised, together with the new development projects committed/planned, it is expected that non-metro areas will see their share of jobs increasing from the present 24 per cent to 38 per cent among the total number of jobs in Hong Kong. This will significantly improve our situation of home-job imbalance.

Is ELM a must?

A major difference between the two SGAs is that ELM involves reclamation and development of artificial islands in the waters near Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau, while the NTN involves development by means of comprehensive planning to achieve more efficient use of the brownfield sites and abandoned agricultural land in the New Territories. I am aware that some stakeholders are concerned about reclamation, which in turn leads to doubts over the necessity of developing ELM. In fact, apart from minimising the impact on existing communities, reclamation has fewer planning limitations and is therefore more conducive to comprehensive planning and design, and the creation of a low-carbon smart city in the future. In terms of implementation schedule, it is far more controllable. As I have reiterated from time to time, development and ecological conservation are not mutually exclusive. Take ELM for instance: located in the central waters of Hong Kong which is ecologically less sensitive compared with the eastern and western waters, large-scale reclamation at ELM is more feasible. Of course, the proposals are still subject to further technical studies. As we attach great importance to the environment, we hope to commence the studies on the central waters as soon as possible to further evaluate the impact of reclamation and relevant infrastructures on the overall environment, and to consider the necessary mitigation measures. I therefore look forward to the support from all sectors of the community for our bid for the Legislative Council’s funding approval regarding the studies on the central waters.

There are allegations that given the massive scale and costs, the proposed reclamation and infrastructure works of ELM are just “white elephants”.  However, a look at the Hong Kong map will tell you the strategic geographical location of ELM and give you a better understanding of the proposal. Through strategic transport infrastructure, ELM will link up the two urban business cores on both sides of Victoria Harbour, eastern Lantau, Tung Chung, Airport Island, Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities Island of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, as well as western Hong Kong including Tuen Mun and Hung Shui Kiu. With proper links, ELM will only be about four kilometres from Hong Kong Island (more or less the length of the Tate’s Cairn Tunnel), and a trip to Central from ELM will take less than 20 minutes in the future. Travelling from northwest New Territories to downtown will also be more convenient as well.

ELM’s strategic and convenient location will not only achieve the said objectives of home-job balance and developing a new economic hub, but will also provide the necessary decanting space for redeveloping our rapidly ageing housing stock and urban renewal. In fact, the existing building stock in Hong Kong is mostly built in the 1970s and 1980s. A rough estimation is that the number of privately owned residential flats aged 70 years or above will increase by nearly 300 times from the current 1 100 or so to around 326 000 in 2046. In view of the huge ageing building stock, there is a genuine and enormous need for the decanting space in order to resettle the affected residents and expedite urban renewal.

Will there be excessive land development?

There are views suggesting that population growth in Hong Kong is slowing down, and if we stop attracting immigrants, new land developments for housing and other purposes such as ELM might no longer be necessary. As I have said before, instead of focusing merely on population growth, we should take into account other macro factors, including the continuous decrease of average domestic household size and the steady growth in the number of domestic households (an increase of 500 000 is expected between now and 2044); the relocation needs of households affected by urban renewal projects in the future; the demand for Government, Institution or Community (GIC) facilities and services arising from the ageing population and the need for family support, as well as the demand for land in support of Hong Kong’s economic development and more.

It is estimated that in the long run Hong Kong will have a shortage of at least 1200 hectares of land – 200 hectares for housing, 300 hectares for economic land use, and 700 hectares for various different purposes such as “GIC", “Open Space", transport and infrastructure, etc. The two SGAs, capable of providing 1720 hectares of land in total, will be able to address the long-term “land deficit” and bring the housing capacity of Hong Kong to nine million in terms of population. This figure is about 10 per cent more than the Census and Statistic Department’s (C&SD) peak population estimate of 8.22 million by 2043. This extra 10 per cent is exactly the "land reserve" that we have been advocating to provide us with an appropriate buffer in land supply. Such a buffer will not only save us from the quagmire of “playing catch-up” and “paying off old debts” in our planning and development work as a result of the prolonged land shortage problem in the past, but will also allow us the flexibility to convert it into “manoeuvring spaces” where necessary. We would thus be able to respond promptly to the changing aspirations of the community, and be well-equipped to consider introducing more policy initiatives to enhance existing open space and facilities.

In fact, the C&SD’s peak population projection of 8.22 million by 2043 represents only a baseline projection. If we compare it with the scenario of a high population projection (of about nine million) forecast also by the C&SD, the housing capacity as offered by the “Hong Kong 2030+” will just be barely enough to meet the demand brought about by the population growth in 2045-46. As a responsible Government, we cannot base our planning on a low population growth scenario, as it may result in under-planning of land, public facilities and population and failing to cope with the needs in case of sudden changes in circumstances. Moreover, strategic planning has to be pursued with reference to long-term spatial distribution. When we work on specific projects, we are still bound by cardinals to adjust the pace and scale of our development plan according to the actual situation.

Set aside differences and face the reality

I understand that the provision of land and space alone is unable to solve the current difficulties and conflicts faced by Hong Kong. I also understand the dissatisfaction of certain parties over land planning, resource allocation, and development priorities. However, allowing such feelings, myths and even misunderstanding to varnish the long-term development need of Hong Kong will only hinder the city’s growth. The “Hong Kong 2030+” is not advocating a “development-oriented” concept, but promoting some planning directions to make Hong Kong a “home” suitable for living and working. As the Christmas holiday season is around the corner, I hope you will spare some time to read the “Hong Kong 2030+” (www.hk2030plus.hk) if you have yet to do it, and share with us your views.

11 December, 2016