The deadline for the public consultation on Hong Kong 2030+ looms on April 30 – the last chance for Lantau people to register their views on the plan to run a freeway across the island to connect Mui Wo to Central via a new commercial centre built on reclaimed land.
Here’s why it shouldn’t be built.
- The ELM won’t fix Hong Kong’s housing problem
Hong Kong has the world’s most expensive home prices – a wretched record it has held for the past seven years. That requires solutions now, not in the mid-2030s when the first ELM homes are ready.
- The ELM is the worst solution to the housing shortage
The ELM is the slowest, most expensive and environmentally harmful way to provide affordable housing. It proposes to house up to 700,000 people on a site from anywhere between 1000 and 2400 hectares, comprising the islands of Hei Ling Chau and Kau Yi Chau and extensive harbour reclamation. Some alternatives:
- Hong Kong’s three biggest property developers, Sun Hung Kei, Henderson and New World between them have more than 90 million square feet, or 836 hectares, in their land banks. This is agricultural land that could and should be rezoned to residential (CE-elect Carrie Lam has talked about this but has made no specific plans).
- Hong Kong has 189,000 unoccupied empty properties. We should tax the owners of these and in particular those owners not living in Hong Kong.
- End the indigenous house policy, which locks up hundreds of hectares of prime residential land on the outlying islands and New Territories.
- Build on a brownfields site in Wang Chau to provide 17,000 homes instead of cutting a secret deal with a rural land owner that cuts this to 4,000.
- The ELM will solve a problem that doesn’t exist
The ELM is based on a forecast population of 9 million. Yet the government’s own figures anticipate that the city’s population will peak at 8.22 million in 2043, after which it will decline. The government has suggested it is a ‘contingency’ – in other words it wants to commit public funds to the city’s biggest ever infrastructure project on the basis that it might be needed.
- The ELM has no economic case
The ELM is intended to be Hong Kong’s third CBD – a concentration of high-end office and retail, in addition to the abundant stock that exists in Central-Admiralty and East Kowloon (in the case of office space) and Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui (retail), not to mention the flood of new retail stores at the forthcoming HZM bridge landing zone. The government has not made the case for these other than claiming that direct links to both the Pearl River west bank and Central will create economic activity.
Property consultant Leo Cheung from Icon City says the government’s economic projections “belong to the unknown.” A new city centre of that scale will require up to a quarter of million jobs – there is no sign of where they will come from.
- If we build the ELM they won’t come
Since 1997, Hong Kong has built one white elephant after another – Stonecutters Bridge (HK$2.76 billion), the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal (HK$6.6 billion), Central-Wanchai bypass (HK$36 billion), the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge (HK$140 billion and climbing) the high-speed rail link (HK$90 billion and also climbing) and, coming soon, the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator (HK$22 billion). Hong Kong bureaucrats love to pour concrete instead of trying to solve actual problems. Their bosses in Beijing love it, too. China is now exporting its excess construction capacity across Eurasia through its ‘One Belt One Road’ scheme. Heavy public works may have worked well for developing China in the past 30 years, but add little value to a city that already has advanced infrastructure.
- The ELM is environmentally destructive
Hong Kong leaders repeatedly stress they aim to balance conservation and development, yet invariably they find that the ‘balance’ comes down on the side of environmental degradation. This has been the case with Shek Kwu Chau, HZM bridge and the third runway. If an environmental assessment of ELM is made, it is guaranteed that the Environmental Protection Department will determine that it meets all the environmental criteria.
Special mention must be made of the repeated claim that this planned concentration of concrete and glass on reclaimed land and fed by freeways will be ‘low-carbon.’
- Hong Kong can no longer manage large projects
The ELM promises to be the greatest money pit of all. There is no costing yet, but according to a private estimate, based on previous projects, it will cost HK$400 billion.
This city once had a reputation for financial rectitude. The continued delays and cost overruns on the HZM bridge and the Guangzhou express rail link indicate a reckless approach to managing taxpayer assets and reinforce the view that sound economics are far less important than making a favourable impression in Beijing.
- The ELM has been shrouded in deception
From the outset it has been clear the government is determined to impose ELM on the city, regardless of its cost or public opinion. After introducing the ELM in his 2014 policy address CY Leung created a new advisory body stacked with developers and government supporters. After they predictably voted for ELM, the government held a ‘consultation’ that with equal predictability found that most Hong Kong people support the project, despite the thousands of written objections. The government has never showed any evidence for this claimed level of support. It also has never issued any of the consultancy studies that have examined the project. This disdain for public opinion was symbolised by the construction of a 3D model of ELM exclusively for visiting Beijing official Zhang Dejiang while the public consultation was still underway, containing details then unknown to the public.