Catching up with all the riveting Hong Kong things I missed over the last week, and I find the Lantau Mega-Reclamation Artificial Islands Vision Project still seems to be struggling to win the community’s support. Construction/property tycoon Gordon Wu is getting grumpy about riffraff opposition, of the sort that greets another spokesman for the infrastructure lobby.
The government can further provoke public resistance by rushing preliminary work through the rigged legislature. But coming soon after the opening of the high-speed rail and Zhuhai Bridge white elephants and various MTR-related problems, the timing isn’t good. Interestingly, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung points out that the concept is merely an idea and not a done deal, in contrast to his boss Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who seems adamant that the deranged money-waster will go ahead.
It feels rather like that time in the early 2000s, when the government tried to hand West Kowloon to the property developers. The crony-scam was so obvious, and public opinion so hostile, officials backed down.
If the Lantau reclamation boondoggle had Beijing’s blessing at this stage, it would just happen – no debate or lobbying necessary. As it is, the construction-developer parasites are almost embarrassingly eager to push it onto the disfranchised populace. Their reasoning for the project is so unconvincing that it looks more like desperation than plain everyday opportunistic drooling at the prospect of getting their hands on the city’s fiscal reserves. As if they fear someone might decide to do something else with the half-trillion dollars.
For example, one minute they tell us the mega-reclamation will be used for affordable housing. The next, they claim that the value of the new land will be so great that the thing will make a huge profit. Meanwhile, rational plain folk pick holes in the arguments. Won’t we be integrated and Mainlandized into the Bay Area Hub Zone by the time it’s finished? Why do we need an extra one or two million people living here? If you’re going to blow half a trillion bucks, why not just buy land from Shenzhen, or pay people to emigrate?
A former planning official comes up with an arguably elegant and brilliant way for Hong Kong to magic far more land for housing into existence. And it costs nothing.
The government announces that it will not renew the leases on developers’ agricultural-zoned land in the New Territories in 2047 (when all land leases technically end, though everyone assumes they will be rolled over). These land banks suddenly become near-worthless – would you buy a home with such an expiry date? If the developers want to make any returns on these holdings, which they acquired for pennies decades ago, they will need to start cooperating with the government rather than ordering it about.
It’s staring us in the face. No mess, no fuss, no wrangling over resumption, no need for private-public partnership on developers’ terms. The author even points out (original article here) that it would make the Hong Kong government popular – a miracle in itself.
This plan would presumably impact developers’ share prices. If that doesn’t worry you, be assured that – as with all proposals to use existing land sensibly for the public good – officials will find some excuse why this Cannot Be Done.