A collective noun for Hong Kong public-works screw-ups? Coming up…
A complete and absolute Donald of white-elephant infrastructure horrors dominates today’s headlines. RTHK conveniently has them all: the Zhuhai Bridge artificial island is sort of moving; Express Rail Link contractors might stop work if the money runs out; and the Central Market re-uglification project will no longer feature something called a ‘floating garden’.
A fuller investigative piece on the Zhuhai Bridge thing is here by Howard Winn (formerly of the South China Morning Post, which apparently can’t bring itself to pick up the story). The problem is that the reclamation method used for the artificial island housing the border facilities – while relatively environmentally friendly – needs a long time to settle, in a sort of ‘now they tell us’ way.
The bad news is that this means the whole bridge connecting Hong Kong and Zhuhai will be delayed. The good news is that no-one will notice or care because the link is destined to serve no useful purpose anyway.
It could have made sense back in the Pearl River Delta export-manufacturing miracle boom days, but that’s history now. A fallback excuse for the project was that it would deliver billions and billions more Mainland tourists and shoppers into Tung Chung and Central, but of course that idea now goes down like a cup of cold vomit.
The unspoken reason for the bridge is that it symbolically attaches uppity, insufficiently de-colonized Hong Kong to a humdrum semi-crappy bit of the glorious motherland, which means ‘integration’, which is a Good Thing. Plus, of course, someone’s making a bundle out of all the contracts.
The Express Rail Link from Kowloon to Shenzhen similarly exists to satisfy some sort of psychological need to make Hong Kong appear connected with and absorbed into the rest of China. My hunch is that planning-oriented Communist ideologues are genuinely angered by maps that show the country’s high-speed rail network stopping at Shenzhen. Hong Kong, they would mutter, thinks it’s too important, too superior, too cool to be like all the other cities with their vaguely creepy-looking bullet trains. It must be forced to conform.
The big selling point was ‘You can get to Wuhan in five hours!! Yippee!!’ That failed to enthuse – as of course did the default alternative lure of ‘zillions of tourists’. So it’s just a plain old white elephant. There is talk of work coming to a halt owing to unpaid bills. Sadly, this is far too good to be true, and is just a scare story designed to get extra billions flowing again. (The shortfall is HK$3 billion – mere beer money.)
Strolling to the office this morning, I helped a lost Scandinavian-accented backpacker. She said she was looking for Central Market. I replied that she was standing inside it. She asked how she could go upstairs. I said she couldn’t – it’s closed. So where, she asked, could she go to see the place where they sell the vegetables? Sparing her a trip to Park N Shop, I sent her off in the direction of Sheung Wan Municipal Services Building.
How many years ago did Central Market sell its last produce? I have no idea how you can spend so much time converting a largely open-plan four-floor building into an indoor park and food court. And then there’s the cost. It seems a six-month, HK$100 million job became a six-year, HK$1 billion one. All they had to do was knock a few old stalls out, give it a lick of paint and install some benches. Instead, according to the latest reports, the geniuses in charge have been unable to find a way to convert the rooftop into a public space without chucking half a billion bucks away, so they will now leave the roof as it has been all along. Or something. The public will have to be content with the rest of the building, assuming they live long enough to see this project completed.