The 2021 policy address by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam clearly expressed the aim of integrating Hong Kong into mainland China’s national development plans. The broad-ranging address included an urban development blueprint for Hong Kong, with proposals for various ideas to make the rail network a transport backbone, to build up the areas around Victoria Harbour and northern Hong Kong into two metropolitan areas, and to increase land supply for both public and private development.
The proposed 300-square kilometre Northern Metropolis would be able to accommodate 2.5 million people living and working there, and could be called the largest integrated urban development project in Hong Kong’s history.
Hong Kong is just moving from chaos to order; the new political environment brings possibilities of developing the Northern Metropolis. The Beijing central government has acknowledged the policy address and the market has responded positively, while it will take real-world implementation to clear doubts.
Is the plan well thought out?
Previous Hong Kong governments have proposed development blueprints. Without having to go too far back, Leung Chun-ying proposed increasing housing supply through a multi-pronged approach, while the Lam administration previously proposed the Lantau Tomorrow Vision and the two metropolitan areas in this latest policy address.
Looking back at the 24 years of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region (SAR), one weakness of the government is turning visions into plans and then getting results from implementation.
These visions are not mutually exclusive, and some have been realised. But with plans to expand the Victoria Harbour hub yet to be firmed up, the policy address has already proposed the even larger Northern Metropolis, with little mention of the Lantau Tomorrow Vision.
People would wonder if the Northern Metropolis is a stroke of inspiration for the policy address, or a solution following careful consideration.
Turning visions into plans
Looking back at the 24 years of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region (SAR), one weakness of the government is turning visions into plans and then getting results from implementation. Land and housing supply have long been problems for Hong Kong — practically every chief executive candidate and government has put them into their campaign outline or their governance aims, but these issues remain unresolved, while subdivided flats have been a part of Hong Kong for the longest time.
The 20-year plan to develop the Northern Metropolis would increase land and housing supply, provide job opportunities, and build an innovation base. And there would have to be a process of designing a comprehensive long-term development plan for that vision, such as forecasting the funding and manpower shortfall for each development phase, and coming up with feasible solutions.
Recently, Lam has proposed streamlining the legal process for repossessing land and issuing bonds for financing, and commissioning a deputy secretary for development to oversee the Northern Metropolis development and release regular progress reports, which can be considered a response to people’s doubts.
...the fact that the Legislative Council expressed thanks for the policy address and passed certain parts of funding does not mean that the vision and plans in the address will be carried through by subsequent governments.
Possibility of creating sustainable plans
In March next year, Hong Kong will choose its next chief executive. If Lam runs and is re-elected, her next term will only be for five years, and realising the objectives in the policy address will obviously go beyond that.
In mainland China, developing a project calls for administrative approval from the agency in charge before going into the implementation stage. Hong Kong does things differently, and the fact that the Legislative Council expressed thanks for the policy address and passed certain parts of funding does not mean that the vision and plans in the address will be carried through by subsequent governments.
Party politics is not implemented in Hong Kong. The future chief executive will run for election and stamp their authority with their own political beliefs, and it is reasonable that it will be difficult for them to publicly accept the ideas of their predecessor. They will also need to organise a new governance team. So, the continuity of policies will affect the smooth development of the new metropolis.
If the central government and SAR government have decided that Hong Kong will expand to the north, then they should consider setting up a system to allow solutions to span various terms of different chief executives.
Focusing on the objectives
The issue of Hong Kong’s subdivided flats reflects, first, the gulf between rich and poor, and then the insufficient supply of land and housing, the latter of which is also the bottleneck to the growth of the Hong Kong economy.
The policy address showed that Hong Kong’s economy will be led by innovation and integration into national development, and the effectiveness of the Northern Metropolis should be measured against this.
So, it is worth thinking about whether the current framework and market conditions for property flipping in Hong Kong’s old city area should be reproduced in the new city area. Allowing capital and private companies to actively participate in the building and innovation development of the Northern Metropolis, while increasing land and housing supply and transforming the economy in the process, would bring out the significance of developing the Northern Metropolis.
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