Delivering her final policy address as her current term ends, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on 6 October announced plans for a 300-square kilometre Northern Metropolis for people to live, work and travel, which will open up more liveable land and promote connectivity between mainland China and Hong Kong.
However, some analyses say that the objectives of the plan are too far ahead and will not resolve Hong Kong’s current housing issues. It will also be of little help to Lam’s re-election efforts.
Shortfall in Hong Kong’s residential land increases to 3,000 hectares
According to the Hong Kong government’s earlier estimates, Hong Kong is currently short of about 1,200 hectares of residential land. However, updated estimates in yesterday’s policy address show that the figure has increased to 3,000 hectares.
The report said to speed up land supply, the Hong Kong government will review the green belt zone, look into redeveloping Sai Wan and Ma Tau Wai Estates, push for near-shore reclamation in the Lung Kwu Tan and Ma Liu Shui areas, and consider amending the New Territories Ordinance to relax restrictions on the sale of Tso/Tong lands (ancestral land) in the New Territories.
Ancestral land refers to ancestral halls, temples, and farmland in the local villages in the New Territories, which is collectively held by clans or families in the name of “ancestors” or “halls”, under the charge of a manager. And when the manager sells off the land, the Home Affairs Bureau has to grant approval. However, currently, all male clan members have to approve before ancestral land can be sold, which can be difficult.
The policy address also proposed a 300-square kilometre Northern Metropolis to attract companies to come in and create employment, to make it “the most vibrant area where urban development and major population growth of Hong Kong in the next 20 years will take place”.
The Northern Metropolis mainly includes the Yuen Long and North districts, with plans by the authorities to build five rail lines in support, including several cross-border lines linking Shenzhen’s Luohu district, Huanggang Port and Qianhai, to improve connectivity between mainland China and Hong Kong.
The policy address projected that when completed, the Northern Metropolis will have 926,000 flats, including the current 390,000, that can house 2.5 million residents.
The address also mentioned government restructuring, including suggestions to establish a Culture, Sports & Tourism Bureau to help Hong Kong become an arts and cultural exchange centre, splitting the Transport & Housing Bureau, and reorganising the Home Affairs Bureau into the Youth & District Affairs Bureau.
Summing up four years of challenges
This was Lam’s final policy address. Feeling the burden of heavy responsibility, an emotional Lam described her four-year tenure as the “greatest honour” in her career as well as the “biggest challenge” in her life as she read out her closing remarks, holding back tears at one point.
She said, “Within two years of taking office, I came under unprecedented pressure due to opposition to the proposed legislative amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, the social unrest, the incessant and gross interference in Hong Kong affairs by external forces as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The driving force backing me up in overcoming all these challenges comes from the earnest words of the central government that it will always provide staunch support to Hong Kong, my pledge to always stand by the side of the people of Hong Kong when I took office and the unfailing trust and support of my family.”
...there will be a large increase in residential units and jobs created in the northern New Territories region in the future, alleviating Hong Kong’s housing and economic transformation problems. - Lau Kwok-fan, legislative Council member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong
Members of the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong have largely welcomed this policy address as they believe the policy direction of development to be correct. Legislative Council member Lau Kwok-fan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said that the proposal of the Northern Metropolis outlined the future development of Hong Kong.
He noted that the proposed 300-square kilometre Northern Metropolis accounts for nearly one-third of Hong Kong’s total area. It would be able to accommodate roughly 2.5 million people in the future, which is approximately one-third of Hong Kong’s population. Thus, there will be a large increase in residential units and jobs created in the northern New Territories region in the future, alleviating Hong Kong’s housing and economic transformation problems.
...the proposed plan is a bad cheque and [he] doubts that the Hong Kong government has sufficient financial resources to handle it. - Chong Wing-fai, member of the Central Committee of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party
Proposed plan unable to solve Hong Kong’s housing problem
On the other hand, Chong Wing-fai, a member of the Central Committee of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, thinks that the proposed plan is a bad cheque and doubts that the Hong Kong government has sufficient financial resources to handle it. The Northern Metropolis will apparently provide 900,000 more residential units that can accommodate 2.5 million people. But, questioned Chong, if it is to be implemented concurrently with the Lantau Tomorrow Vision project slated to accommodate over 3.7 million people, would the Hong Kong government be able to cope with such a huge expenditure?
...a faraway goal that lacks a concrete timetable for its implementation. - Chan Wai-keung, lecturer, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College
Chan Wai-keung, a lecturer at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College, told Zaobao that Lam proposed numerous new policies in her policy address but most of them are not geared towards solving Hong Kong’s immediate problems. He added that the proposed Northern Metropolis is a faraway goal that lacks a concrete timetable for its implementation. Thus, the overall address did not throw up any surprises.
He doubts that the policy address would help Lam be re-elected as chief executive. He said, “The policies mentioned in her policy address will take a long time to materialise and do not give people the sense that she is a politician who boldly tears down the old to build the new. It isn’t too good that she was close to tears at the end of her address as well.”