What you could do with HK$624 billion

The government announces its official estimated cost for the Lantau Tomorrow Mega-Vision Reclamation Concept. The sum is absurdly precise – why 624 billion, as opposed to 625, 620 or 630? Or 600-700?

The South China Morning Post calculates that you could buy two-and-a-half Li Ka-shings or 160 hospitals for this money. Such redundant alternatives risk making the reclamation look like a relatively attractive use of wealth. Better to say ‘we could build one Hong Kong-class hospital for every half million people in the Greater Bay Area’. (Of which more in a minute.)

The government claims that the extra space will accommodate lots of affordable housing – yet at the same time the reclamation will pay for itself through the traditional overpriced land-sale scam.

This is sort of contradictory, though the numbers probably look better when you see the reclamation as an area into which riffraff can be ‘decanted’ (the official term), leaving the old urban neighbourhoods of Kowloon to be flattened and sold off to developers to build luxury apartments.

But this all assumes that 20 years down the road, Hong Kong will still be a relatively desirable place to live in, or launder wealth through. That assumes that: a) the CCP regime will still be in power with comparable economic and political systems to today’s; and b) this regime will not have largely merged Hong Kong by then, so local land values will still be much higher here than across the border.

Indeed, the whole reclamation ‘vision’ looks arguably anti-Bay Area. Cunning opponents could point out that, rather than create extra land at vast expense on this side of the border (colonial-era, ‘little Hongkonger’, anti-motherland thinking), we should be patriotic and forward-looking, and be expanding into groovy trendy Zhuhai, Zhongshan, etc.

Perhaps it is ultimately an excuse to build an entirely new transport network – a serious boondoggle in its own right, and of course not necessary if you manage population growth and use existing New Territories land properly.

Which brings us to ex-lawmaker Edward Yiu, who reminds us that talk of the project sort-of profiting from land sales overlooks the obvious fact that brownfield and other NT sites represent similar value – which sits unlocked.

We have yet to hear Beijing’s thoughts on this plan.

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