With barely two months left in office, Donald Tsang’s otherwise inactive administration can’t resist one more pointless, overpriced, space-hogging infrastructure project. This one is yet another border crossing, costing HK$16 billion and somehow covering 18 hectares, or 45 acres, of land. It will be in a place called Heung Yuen Wai – ‘perfumed garden’, no less – in relative wilderness nearly halfway between Lowu and Shataukok. If a bureaucrat had to find a place to put another crossing, this location would leap out as an obvious gap.
The thing will require extravagant highway and tunnel links; as always it is hard to tell whether the links are to justify the crossing or vice-versa. Officials envisage that 20,000 vehicles and 30,000 humans will use the facility per day. The idea seems to be to redistribute existing traffic, though with China reducing taxes on luxury goods and Hong Kong’s cargo handling in decline in the coming years, it would be nice to think traffic will redistribute itself away from the Big Lychee as a whole of its own accord. Of all the crossings, the only nightmarishly crowded one is Lowu; the others are mostly fine, and the latest, at Shenzhen Bay, is almost a pleasure to use. The ‘economic benefits’ mentioned in the Standard are the usual Hong Kong government arithmetic to produce an instant economic multiplier effect without considering such things as opportunity costs. By this economically illiterate reckoning, any government spending produces ‘benefits’.
The Hong Kong government has a history of exaggerating population growth forecasts. You would almost get the impression, if you were a cynic, that the desire to justify infrastructure projects drives the forecasts, not the other way round. The Development Bureau’s public-works empire and an array of international engineering companies do very nicely out of the high-speed rail link to Shenzhen, the Zhuhai bridge, and all the rest. Of course, our friends the property tycoons have fingers in the pie as well, via their construction interests. It will be interesting to see whether Chief Executive-elect CY Leung gets to grips with this scam.
The South China Morning Post’s Monitor column gets into the swing of the ‘Donald development’ mentality today, asserting that a ban on Mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong will damage Hong Kong. The logic goes like this: fewer births mean a population 1.5 million below the government’s 2039 projection (for which read ‘target’), which means a smaller-than-otherwise economy, which means lower property prices and less need for construction, which obviously means we are doomed. Only by aiming to be a really big urban centre like Mexico City (20 million) can we prosper via the struggle to keep building unaffordable housing; otherwise we will shrivel up into a tiny patch of poverty like Monaco (35,000), left ruined and starving by cheap, spacious homes and an absence of construction sites.
Or could it be that CY Leung sees worthwhile economic activity beyond the incessant building and trading of crappy concrete boxes?