Friday, February 21, 2014, 11:03
Focus HK: City of the future
By Li Tao

Focus HK: City of the future

The building of an “East Lantau” metropolis, unveiled in last month’s Policy Address, to ease the crush of tourists on downtown streets may be insufficient to handle anticipated tourist boom. Li Tao tells us in the second of a three-part series.

Only after downtown streets and malls become crammed with tourists did the Hong Kong government resolve to build a new metropolis to ease the pressure. Eastern Lantau Island was chosen. The remote part of greater Hong Kong known as the site of China’s first Disneyland, and of course, Hong Kong International Airport. Now Lantau Island is to become the locale for the city’s third central business district. The new district, will act as a pressure valve, relieving the tension aroused among local residents, over the invasion of tourists from the north. It’s now, widely agreed the city lacks the facilities for handling tourists in the numbers typically coming across the border.

During his Policy Address in mid-January, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that new studies are being undertaken, so that Lantau Island is developed in such a way as to bring maximum benefit to Hong Kong, from the rapid economic development of the Pearl River Delta (PRD). The project is based on a vision that the 55-kilometer, Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge set to open in 2016, can bring even greater cross border benefits to Hong Kong.

By the time when the entire 9-kilometer Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link are completed in 2018, Lantau will become an essential connecting point for cross border journeys, to and from Guangdong province and two special administrative regions. Lantau also will become a point of convergence for travelers between the areas.

“This will bring fundamental change to Lantau’s functions and development potential,” Leung declared in the policy address.

The blueprint for Lantau, as the western extremity of Hong Kong land transport network, will come up with detailed plans with respect to the island’s distinctive characteristics. A Lantau Development Advisory Committee, led by Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po, will also be formed to oversee the entire project.

Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities (HKBCF), the 130-hectare artificial island to serve as a transportation hub that will provide clearance facilities for goods and passengers crossing the bridge, will become the gateway from Hong Kong to the western PRD. It’s a natural, given its proximity to the Hong Kong International Airport. It will take on great value, Leung promised, as a “bridgehead economy.”

Frontline development

Government departments charged with carrying out the work are to conduct a detailed study on the feasibility of developing major shopping malls, restaurants, entertainment and hotel facilities in the area to meet the needs to incoming tourists, right at the front line.

The government also intends to explore further development of the eastern waters off Lantau Island and neighboring areas, with a view to developing an “East Lantau Metropolis” which will accommodate expanding population. The new core business district will stand alongside the two other central business districts, Central and Kowloon East.

With planning for the construction of Hong Kong International Airport’s third runway moving forward at full speed, the airport’s North Commercial District, a large area of some 10 hectares, also holds enormous development potential and economic value. Development will serve HKIA’s effort to maintain its standing as the key regional transportation hub.

The chief executive stressed that Hong Kong would maintain its longstanding policy to enhance cooperation with the PRD and will play an active role in the PRD’s development.

The Lantau Development Alliance, which consists of businesses and other organizations on the island, offered immediate approbation of the news. The committee to solicit proposals for coordinating the development of Lantau will become a platform to facilitate the effective collaboration of the stakeholders, including the community at large, the business sector and the Government, the alliance expects.

Colliers International also acknowledged the government’s growing pragmatism toward keeping Hong Kong’s competitiveness by capitalizing on major infrastructure projects and on the synergy between Hong Kong and PRD region.

“The logistics industry has flourished in recent years and Tuen Mun is the place to be for future logistics development,” Colliers Executive Director Simon Lo indicated in the report.

“By improving port facilities and enhancing the efficiency of port operations, Hong Kong can seize opportunities brought by the growth of trade in the mainland and Asia, which create opportunities for logistics market players,” said the report.

“We are not a closed economy, and we can’t just look into the development of ourselves,” says Allen Ha, chairman of Lantau Development Alliance and chief executive officer of AsiaWorld-Expo, who also indicated that Hong Kong is the strongest part, and the key player in the economic growth of the Pearl Delta Region over the years.

Aside from the widely anticipated economic interactions across the border, the development of Lantau Island, indeed, is good news that will benefit the overall interests of Hong Kong as well as people living in the city, Ha tells China Daily in an interview.

Effects will be seen immediately by local people once the shopping, entertainment and hotel facilities are completed in the remote area. These instantly will alleviate tensions arising from the overcrowding of the city’s “hottest areas”, downtown, from Causeway Bay to Mongkok, Ma said. He also believes it will improve the living environment.

A total of 48.6 million visitors — seven times the size to Hong Kong’s population visited the city in 2012. Nearly three-quarters came from the Chinese mainland. Latest government data showed that visitor arrivals to Hong Kong increased 12 percent year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2013, while those from the Chinese mainland increased 17.3 percent during the period.

In a report dated January 20, 2014, the brokerage firm CLSA estimated the outbound mainland tourist numbers will reach 200 million by 2020, double the 100 million who left the mainland in 2013.

Tourist spending will triple by that time, with a significant impact on airlines, the gaming industry, luxury goods, medical tourism, hotels, property and cruise ships, CLSA stated. The report forecast that Hong Kong and Macao would maintain their positions as the top international travel destinations for mainland travelers.

Although Secretary for Commerce & Economic Development Gregory So said in January 2014 that Hong Kong has the capacity to receive the more than 70 million visitor arrivals expected annually commencing in 2017 he also conceded Hong Kong cannot afford to put all of its precious land resources into developing tourism facilities. The supply of hotel rooms will remain tight. So based his remarks on figures derived from a recently completed government assessment.

Local resources rivalry

So assured local residence, the government would spare no effort ensuring that the quality of life will be affected as little as possible by the growth in visitor numbers. There already has been friction and discontent over what many local people see as competition for local resources because of the surging tourist numbers in Hong Kong.

In an earlier interview with China Daily in 2013, Lo Sui-on, executive director of China Travel Service (Holdings) Hong Kong Ltd, expressed concern over the impeding collision between the growing influx of visitors and the relatively limited capacity of downtown Hong Kong. During that interview So urged moderate development of Lantau Island, creating more tourist areas separated from ordinary residences, and building shopping centers designed to attract visiting “shopaholics”.

Aside from opening up new tourist gateways on Lantau Island to alleviate the pressure, the government’s plan to build up residential and commercial sites in the area is expected to help relieve Hong Kong’s home purchase pressure.

“As the island is rich in land banks, the government should consider offering incentives to Hong Kong people to move to Lantau,” says Chau Kwong-wing from the Department of Real Estate and Construction at the University of Hong Kong.

The planned developments will also add an added cooling effect to home prices in the downtown areas, and assist more local residents to buy their own homes, Chan noted.

Joseph Tsang, managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle Hong Kong, added that the combination of both residential and commercial developments on Lantau was a wise choice to make the island more attractive. Still, he predicted, it will take probably 10 years to see all the infrastructures in place by which time Lantau will gradually become attractive given that it is located far from the Hong Kong Island, according to Tsang.

Although a wide consensus on the Lantau development was seen in Hong Kong, with both political and business sectors expressing overwhelming support for the plan, concerns over the projects, nevertheless, remain.

The construction of the long delayed third runway at Hong Kong International Airport remained an issue for years as environment groups argued the Airport Authority should assess a number of factors including noise pollution, carbon emissions by aircraft and effects on air quality.

Green groups also raised objection to the third runway on aspects of the environment such as the marine life, including the habitat of Chinese White Dolphins.

Green groups’ opposition

Most opposition on the Lantau development proposed in the Policy Address will also come from local green groups, Ha from the Lantau Development Alliance predicted.

Back to 2005 when the then Financial Secretary Henry Tang issued the Lantau Concept Plan to develop the island’s northern coast into a logistics park, golf course, theme park and racecourse, and a spa resort on the southern area, 19 green groups including those based on Lantau expressed strong opposition and urged the government to withdraw the plan citing serious deficiencies.

The core thinking among these green activists is that Lantau should be conserved and not developed — that the ecology of the island must be protected, as well as the quality of life of residents.

“In fact, many local residents in Tung Chung who have complained at the lack of recreational and leisure facilities in the community, are very much looking forward for the Lantau development plan (to improve their living conditions),” Ha said.

Ha believes further communication to fine tune the environmental issues involved with the development will be needed in the future.

Contact the writer at litao@chinadailyhk.com

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