More land weirdness

“Chuck a few really idiotic, huge reclamations into the publicity material too, to scare the dolphin lovers and all that lot.” So, presumably, went the instructions to the folk at the Civil Engineering and Development Department who compiled the proposals on land supply released yesterday. Hence today’s Mega Island – six times bigger than Cheung Chau headlines.

The presentations are here (rationale) and here (maps).

This needs to be seen in the context of Hong Kong government infrastructure and planning policies, which essentially revolve around transferring public wealth to construction interests, hence all the several hundred billions worth of pointless road, bridge and rail projects currently underway. To justify these huge giveaways, officials assume that trends like the rise of the Pearl River Delta export manufacturing machine will continue, even though they are clearly peaking.

In this case, we are invited to believe that by 2039 Hong Kong will have 30% more households than today, totaling a population of 8.9 million, and this will require an extra 45 sq km of land, only 43% of which will be for residential use. We are also expected to conclude that much of this land must come from reclamation. After pondering the awfulness of, say, attaching sprawling housing estates and freeways onto cherished patches of Lamma coastline, we are then supposed to look at the smaller-scale reclamation possibilities (on ‘artificial or disturbed shoreline’) and think they are OK.

Population forecasts, especially by Hong Kong officials, are invariably wrong. Chief Executive Donald Tsang, CY Leung and others warn of under-population one minute and floods of Mainland babies and Filipinos the next. One thing the 8.9 million forecast does not seem to factor in is the possibility of outward migration. A few tweaks to welfare and health policies could easily induce hundreds of thousands of elderly to move to cheaper and nicer places on the mainland in the coming decades, just as the elderly move out of London or New York.

The assumption that we will continue to use land the way we have been doing in the last few decades is also questionable. Will an older population need the same proportion of commercial buildings and roads as today? Will the container ports still be in business, and in their existing locations? Will trucks and containers still clog up the New Territories? Will the Transport Bureau still be prioritizing private car use?

The most obvious ways to free up land – rezoning, resumption and redevelopment – are all ruled out because… they involve private owners. What is the problem? That the additional value created will not end up in official hands? That the government will have to transfer funds to people who don’t own huge construction companies? That the government might have to face up to the New Territories mafia? That the confusion of property rights and redevelopment rights, and the artificially inflated price of land, all make it administratively simpler to spend billions filling in the sea, when we have dozens of square miles of usable space zoned for non-residential use or masquerading as country park?

Worst of all, there is no mention of my pet reclamation project: evict Disneyland.

The private sector has no problem with reclamation. The space between the main towers of Exchange Square and the smaller block known as the Forum has always been an oasis in Central – a rare place where passersby have been allowed to sit, and with Elizabeth Frink’s water buffalo for company. Perhaps as a forewarning of a bear market, in recent days the sculptures have been crated up (below, middle right) and the seating area has been sealed off…

A bigger building, yielding more rent for Hong Kong Land, will follow. It will, no doubt, be a plain box, avoiding all the nasty, sunlight-enabling inefficiency of its predecessor’s curves…

Click to hear ‘This Land is Your Land’ by Woody Guthrie!

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21 Responses to More land weirdness

  1. maugrim says:

    All too true. The one other reason as to why this crazy scheme is getting an airing (I had to check and see if it was april 1st) is because our leadership is both directionless and hopeless. By coming up with these big dollar construction projects, apart from pleasing those who own related resources, the Government feels they send a message of (contrived) progress, that it’s a place moving forward with a master plan (a bit like lhaving to ‘look’ busy in HK workplaces). HK is already over-engineered. It’s a pity our available cash reserves cant be put to better use.

  2. Real Tax Payer says:

    Hemmers

    Once again you have hit the nail on the head

    I just came back from my second home in China after the Christmas break and I shed more than few tears to get back to HK where my first home is ( should it now be termed 2nd home? )

    Long live Mainland China !

    Corruption and all ( but one has to be pretty stoopid to be arrested for big-time corruption – or whatever – in China today

    Basic message : dutiful law-abiding citizens of Mainland China have NOTHING TO FEAR, nor do I if living full-time in China

  3. Bytch Browser says:

    A little-known version of the famous Wildean dialogue…

    Lady Bracknell: That is satisfactory. What between the duties expected of one during one’s lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one’s death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up. That’s all that can be said about land.

    Lord Li Ka Shing: You must be fuggin joking. Get some land and bag the utilities and you’ve got them by the balls for ever.

  4. expat says:

    There is no problem that cannot be solved by pouring enough concrete. Mega bridge, high speed trains, third runway, all kinds of hubs, and now a massive land reclamation scheme – it’s a pleasure to have this group of geniuses spending my tax dollars.

  5. Stephen says:

    Once upon a time a long time ago a little remembered Colonial Governor mooted a “Rose Garden” of massive construction projects to bring confidence back to the Big Lychee after some nastiness in the mainland caused panic here.

    These projects were popular, even though the usual suspects gorged, and did indeed stop the panic. They were popular because, by and large, they were necessary.

    This on the other hand is utter bollocks !

  6. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Maugrim

    AMEN & AMEN

  7. Vile says:

    I was on Tai Mo Shan on a clear day last year (first time both of those conditions have coincided), marvelling at the huge expanse of the Yuen Long scrapyard. Wouldn’t it be an idea to get a couple of bulldozers and shove all that crap north to fill up the Lok Ma Chau swamp? Free up plenty of development land in Yuen Long, plus a nice reclamation bonus for CEDD at the same time. Two birds with one stone!

    Oh, wait, I think i hear a couple of “villagers” shouting loudly …

  8. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    “law-abiding citizens of Mainland China have NOTHING TO FEAR”

    Unfortunately I’ve seen a few cases at close range where this has not been the case. Businessmen with absolutely no involvement in sensitive political issues have been arrested and held without trial for over a year, not because they did “bribery as usual” type stuff, but because they had something valuable that someone in the local government wanted, but would not hand it over. As far as I can tell, the charges brought against them weren’t a case of all people doing business in China inevitably having broken some law, but instead completely fabricated.

    Even when you’re in a “low security” level 3 Chinese prison, you’re sleeping on a concrete floor every night. One guy was held for about 12 months without charges or trial and, during this “investigation” period, he had a total of 6 hours of questioning, most of which had little to do with the charges being purportedly contemplated. Holding a foreign passport is no protection either if you’re ethnically Chinese, hence forever a subject of the Celestial kingdom.

  9. Probably says:

    With such troglodyte thinking I’m surprised the CEDD hasn’t suggested digging holes in the ground and living in caves – or does that not qualify for a land permium?

    Anyway, more proof, if ever needed, of government/construction collusion/corruption.

  10. Big Al says:

    What’s wrong with filling Hong Kong’s waters with reclamation? Looking at the map, there’s lots more space that could be filled up to the SAR’s boundary – massive amounts of space that would keep our construction cartels busy for decades. Who needs Tolo Harbour? What has it ever done for us? And we’d get rid of those pesky dolphins, so there would be no need for greenies to harp on about them every five minutes. An amazing plan with superhuman foresight! All it needs is a government with balls of steel to implement it … oh.

  11. Old Timer says:

    “dutiful law-abiding citizens of Mainland China have NOTHING TO FEAR”

    Unless they write something constructively critical of the government, try and help AIDS victims or families of kids killed in earthquakes. Then they can expect about ten years inside a living hell.

  12. timlett says:

    I drove past the Kai Tak former airport the other day. It is now decades since we knew this site was going to be empty, and 15 years since the aeroplanes moved out. It is still empty. The government claims it is short of space? Hardly surprising.

  13. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ TFF , Big Al et al

    Sorry to disagree ….

    Yes there are – I am sure – some occasional abuses of power, just like Prince Charles ( or was it Lady Di ?) were linked into some shady stuff, not to mention almost all the current world leaders

    ( Did you know that in squeaky clean Germany top politicians can also sit on company boards and get huge directors’ fees ? Strange but True ! )

    I am talking of the current entrepreneurship in China , with whom I brush shoulders : guys / ladies in the one ” yi” class HK$1000,000,000 ( is that enough zeroes? There should be at least 8 x 0 )

    And my own company ( well – my employer’s company) has been doing very straight clean business in China for 25 years with nary a problem except some stupid customs officials who once slapped a 10% tax on our products when our competition was openly smuggling in the same thing to avoid the 17% VAT

    In China – as in all places – shit happens

    But long live China and the guys who run it

    And if Hemmers allows it, I will re-post Alex Lo’s ” My Take” from yesterday because it was just SO good

  14. nulle says:

    @RTP

    let’s see how long before your employers competitors decides to push you out of business when they need more marketshare by trumping up charges against your employer.

    (this scenario equally applicable if you have technology they need/want/covet.)

    what I am afraid more is what TFF describes but with business dealing/technology outside of China and being targeted next time I am in the region.

    It is not unusual to find yourself drugged and wake up in Chinese jail on trumped up charges. this scenario occured fairly often from what I read. remember CCP is a Communist/Socialist govt and will do similar things like North Korea if the needs arise.

    @all, I would gladly paid money to those who burns certain 5 star fabric in public, especially in certain middle kingdoms.

  15. Real Tax Payer says:

    Thesis: China is a ruthless dictatorship that denies its people their basic rights, jails and tortures its critics, destroys its natural environment, rewrites history, manipulates its currency and global trade rules and bullies neighbouring states. Corruption exists at almost every level of officialdom. Misallocation of resources has made the wealth gap, as measured by the Gini coefficient, one of the worst in the world. Immorality prevails throughout society, leading to poisoned milk and tainted food, fake goods and dangerously defective consumer products.

    Antithesis: China is led by a highly competent central government whose officials are capable of devising advanced economic and social policies that have transformed a poor nation into the world’s second-largest economy in a single generation. They have reversed five centuries of national decline, lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and offered the younger, urban generation education, personal freedom and economic opportunities of which their parents and ancestors could only dream.

    Is it schizophrenic to believe in both propositions? When I think of the first, I am glad I am a Hong Kong person. When I entertain the second, I am proud to be a Chinese citizen. I would not be able to complete a national identity survey devised by local pollsters like Robert Chung Ting-yiu.
    Many people subscribe to one or the other position, and the more you argue with them, the more hardened they seem to be and the more certain of their beliefs. Their certainty is admirable, if questionable.
    When we read about brave souls like Ni Yulan , Gao Zhisheng and Liu Xiaobo who dare to challenge the powerful Chinese state, we are silenced by awe and admiration. But this does not mean the causes they represent necessarily offer a better destiny for the Chinese people than the one envisioned by the state leaders.

    Or maybe they do?

  16. Xiaoyao says:

    Stunning. Given the tiny existing population of HK’s outer islands, who in the world do these idiots think wants to live on, say, a filled-in Beaufort-Po Toi? Meanwhile they ignore the vast tracts of empty land alongside the Tung Chung MTR line? After the high-speed rail project, this sets a whole new standard of FUBAR in HK government.

  17. Can’t Hong Kong just annex those islands currently belonging to Zhuhai? There’s at least another Hong Kong Island’s worth of land there…

    http://g.co/maps/bvvjp

  18. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Nulle

    Actually , my employer company currently holds about 95% market share in China

    And what we sell does a heck of lot to help the environment, not just in China but world wide

    Nuff said

    But we always did straight, clean business, followed the rules, and kept our noses clean

    And so we never suffered any reprimands ( except once re import duties on a tiny part of our product range, which was later reversed )

    China is a very fair country for business if you follow the rules

    How often do you travel there yourself ? Me – every week / all week

    I learned something very early on in the mid 1980’s : China is NOT what the popular scandal-loving media portrays it as .

    China is CHINA : and China has hoisted itself up by its own bootstraps in one one generation

    Meanwhile my company’s business in China has grown ten-fold and will soon overtake our USA business ( where we have our factory)

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it ….

    ( Sorry if that sounds rude : no offence intended )

  19. Adrian says:

    From presentation, which is good for a laugh.

    “Triple Benefits (with a big 3)
    – Creating land
    – Handling public fill
    – Disposing of contaminated sediment”

    Where they digging to get the public fill and who will live on contaminated sediment?

    Not to mention filling in Victoria creek even more for another few ferry slots “awarded” to guess who. So glad to now be an ex-expat.

  20. Big Al says:

    @Adrian “Where they digging to get the public fill?”

    Massive amounts of “public fill” from all of the ongoing underground works in Hong Kong: MTRC’s South Island Line (E), West Island Line, Kwun Tong Extension and Express Rail Link; DSD’s Drainage Tunnels on Hong Kong Island West, Tsuen Wan and Lai Chi Kok; DSD’s sewage tunnels two around Hong Kong Island and one across to Stonecutters Island. Plus future works, such as MTRC’s Shatin-Central Link, South Island Line (W) snd Tung Chung Line Extensions; CEDD’s new obsession with creating caverns, etc. The list is endless. We’re drowning in the stuff and at the moment it all ends up in two huge piles in Tseung Kwan O and Tuen Mun, from where it dribbles to the Mainland for their reclamations.

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