Time for One Last Ginormous Grab?

The Chief Executive’s policy address is an annual Hong Kong establishment ritual to distract the populace from the incompetence of their supposed elites. Participants engage in mutual shoe-shining by apparently taking vacuous rubbish seriously – a sub-category of the art of ‘giving face’.

The government mounts high-profile make-believe consultations with the usual ‘various sectors’. It then, with great fanfare, releases a list of measures that are pre-determined, inconsequential, sloppy and/or self-serving, plus some blatant populist PR stunts, and a few lame cop-outs. The media devote major space to it all, portraying it as Hugely Momentously Important in terms of vision, principle, determination and either meeting or dashing public expectations.

This year’s is here if you want, with all the cartoons and leaflets here. It comes just as Hong Kong is visibly and undeniably starting its slide into Mainlandization, hence the desperate and depressing slogan ‘Striving Ahead, Rekindling Hope’. We considered ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, but it sounded too cheery.

The main theme is the ‘heavy focus on finding new land for housing’. By ‘new land for housing’, we mean ‘new ways to divert billions into the pockets of the usual cronies’. The vested interests are the big overlapping bunch of circles you get in a Venn diagram of Hong Kong’s domestic economy by ownership – property development, real estate, construction/engineering, tourism/retailing, etc.

These guys see the mega-white elephant projects now coming to an end. They no doubt foresee Hong Kong gradually losing some of its rent-seeking potential as it becomes more Mainlandized and integrated into the Bay Area. They probably also sense that the whole Historic China Growth Miracle story is over. There’s still time for One Last Gargantuan Grab to get their hands on HK$500 billion-plus from the reserves – but they need to think big and quickly. The plan is to leverage anger about today’s housing situation into support for a vast reclaimed artificial island off Lantau.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam seems eager to deliver. But there’s a lot of things that don’t or might not add up.

One: it’s a 20-year project, and therefore has nothing to do with today’s housing affordability problem. It is aimed at providing homes for 1 million people, which is the same number of new settlers Beijing has sent to Hong Kong in the last two decades. Who is this designed to make space for?

Another: the fact that reclamation is administratively simpler than converting farmland highlights the stupidity of land policy rather than the benefits of reclamation. The more extreme the answer to a ‘problem’, the more people should ask if the problem is real. The price tag for the Lantau Dream Future Paradise Vision Project should be screaming ‘land is already there if you want to use it’.

A third: the local property market is at silly valuations (US$1 million basic apartments vs median household income of US$40,000). Even minor interest-rate and US-China trade problems are now causing jitters in the market, and a bubble-burst in the Mainland or other large-scale shock would expose Hong Kong’s housing shortage for the man-made fake crisis it is.

Bonus snag: rising sea levels?

If this proposal is mainly the local/international tycoons and engineering interests trying the ultimate crony-scam to end all crony-scams, they could be disappointed. But if Beijing is on-side with its own companies’ slice of the action and the demographics/migration angle, this mega-reclamation will go ahead. Worst case: our descendants get the world’s first and only 1,700-hectare outdoor paddling pool (‘Wade from Kennedy Town to Mui Wo!’) Whatever happens, it can’t be as useless as the bridge to Zhuhai.

 

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15 Responses to Time for One Last Ginormous Grab?

  1. Old Newcomer says:

    I live in hope that the public consultation report, when it appears, will show massive public opposition to this ridiculous project. To be fair to Carrie, there are a few good policies sprinkled in among the Belt and Road blather and handouts to cronies – longer maternity leave (wait for Tommy Cheung’s squeals on that one), tougher vehicle emissions standards, enhanced animal protection, more money for medication needed by those with rare diseases, free cervical cancer vaccination for schoolgirls, more dental subsidies for the elderly – these actually use some of Hong Kong’s vast reserves to make a positive difference in society.

  2. Kap'n Konkrete says:

    Ve shall cover everyzink!!! EVERYZINK!!

    I’m tired of suggesting we close the useless shopping malls, there must be 100 of them, all selling useless junk and mobile phone accessories. and turn them into flats, old folks’ homes and creches.

    I’m a Corbynista you see. Wrong place. Wrong time. Just like all you democracy evangelists.

    If you want to see a truly useless shopping mall, come and see Stanley Plaza. Low government rents for dog acupuncture, bronze animals, emetic fake waffles, surf boards for non-existent surfers, unsaleable American imported groceries in multipack and an eerily empty GOD store.

  3. reductio says:

    Interesting spin being put on this by Carrie: “hard choices”. Easy choices more like it. Hard choices would have been developing Fanling golf course (sorry golf fans), shutting Disney, scrapping the small house policy, crucifying taxes for developers with undeveloped land, and reducing the daily mainland inflow. Oh, and did anyone spot the $500 million earmarked for Traditional Chinese Medicine?

  4. Chris Maden says:

    “Whatever happens, it can’t be as useless as the bridge to Zhuhai.”

    With the current numpties designing it? Oh yes it can…

  5. Chinese Netizen says:

    “Striving Ahead, Rekindling Hope”

    So all hope was effectively lost until this point? Yeah…probably.

    “Ten Years” is scarily prophetic.

  6. C.Law says:

    I don’t see how you can call the elites incompetent: they are extremely efficient at putting vast amounts of money in the pockets of various crony sectors, developers and construction interests in particular. The fact that they don’t do things for the rest of the community does not mean a lack of competence, just a lack of care.

    They are also pretty good at following orders.

  7. HillnotPeak says:

    In other news, Carry warns the US for the last time on the trade war with Sheena.

  8. Cassowary says:

    @ Old Newcomer: One of the shoe-shinier think tanks has done a public opinion survey on the artificial island idea and claims that something like 55% of the public supports it.

    It was probably worded something like “Shall we build an artificial island off Lantau to ease the housing crisis or would you like your children to live in the sewers like mole people?” but we shall never know, and unless somebody does an independent poll (hahaha), that figure will be allowed to stand.

  9. steve says:

    Yes–the utter failure of the government to engage seriously with climate change and sea level rise is perhaps the capitalist of all the capital crimes here. It’s actually addressed in this bloated document, in seven of the shortest paragraphs in the whole thing (275-281), mainly blathering briefly about renewable energy. No discussion at all of measures to address increased flooding risks, much less permanent inundation of low lying areas.

    In any case, reclamation projects like this should be absolute non-starters on a global basis from now on.

    http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/rising-sea-levels–storm-surges-pose-risks-for-hong-kong-s-artificial-island-project-10816372

    http://www.hongkongfp.com/2017/09/02/climate-change-raises-risk-flooding-hong-kong-needs-improve-defences/

  10. Des Espoir says:

    Ah, but the people living on this artificial island will be mainly poor people in Government flats – no one care about them.. they don’t count… Actually the Government has already got this name for it “East Lantau Metropolis” – old Government trick, talk about something long enough and hard enough, and people will think it is policy… Why don’t we start calling it “Heng Fa Chuen On Sea”, or “The Lost City of Atlantis”…?

  11. Joe Blow says:

    Carrie’s reign of incompetence will not be marked by her ill-conceived island project but by the fact that she was the first who muzzled the free, international press in Hong Kong, creating a precedent and setting the tone for the final decline of a liberal bastion. But God Almighty told her to be CE, so that’s okay.

  12. Mary Melville says:

    What many do not get is that the vested interests in OHKF are not just slavering over the engineering and road/tunnel development opportunities of the mega reclamation, the golden nugget is the opportunity on one pretext or another to relocate the residents of those PH housing estates at better locations on Kowloon and HK Island to what would essentially be a PH island ghetto. This would free up desirable urban locations for private developments as with North Point and Wong Chuk Hang estates.
    My money is on Wah Fu with its seafront location as the first to go. Already Town Planning Board has rubber stamped plans to move the existing tenants back to new developments that eat into green belt on the fringes of Aberdeen Country Park. Of course officials vowed that the original site would then be redeveloped into additional public housing. But these pledges are worthless.
    Then there is the decanting of Yau Tsim Mong that is currently under review. URA wants to redevelop large areas of the district, and we know that its plans never include the hoi polloi. So residents would be encouraged to move to the Ghetto freeing up lots of desirable locations.
    The ELM is nothing more than a mega con job to remove grassroots from the city centre to a location that makes Tin Shui Wai look convenient in comparison.

  13. Stanley Lieber says:

    Wah Fu is reputed to have excellent feng shui. It’s definitely first on the chopping block.

  14. old git says:

    The rule is PRC is to reorder Marxist thought “All property is theft” to become “All theft is property”.

  15. Reader says:

    Mary M, insightful as ever, joins the dots as to why our soon-to-peak population needs to be dispersed to the Greater Lamma Mudflats Hub. It’s all to keep pumping the Gini coefficient, see!

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