Colonial legacy over land use gone

Hong Kong’s northern region is set to transform as major developers jump on the bandwagon to ring territories near the border.

Developers including Sun Hung Kai Properties, Wheelock Properties and Wing Tai Properties have been making high bids to secure sites in the area.

Others, including Henderson Land and CK Asset, have applied to change the use of their land there.

If the Hang Seng Index serves as a pointer of the economy, would the strong interest expressed by developers in the region bordering Shenzhen be an indicator of a new center of gravity for development in the years to come?

Until recently, the New Territories have been overlooked as planners focused on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

Since April, three sites in Kwu Tung have been put up for tender.

In April, Sun Hung Kai offered a huge HK$8.614 billion – or HK$7,184 per square foot of gross floor area – to bag a plot. The group plans to invest a total of HK$18 billion in the project.

Then Wheelock offered an even higher unit price to get a nearby lot for HK$4.18 billion.

At the same time, Henderson Land paid HK$3.7 billion in land premium to complete the change of land use for two farm sites.

In October last year, CK Asset applied to the Town Planning Board to build multistory housing on two sites in Kwu Tung.

Xu Ze, president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said recently that although Shenzhen has been able to take off economically, not much has changed in planning in Hong Kong. Worse still, the latter has become a blind spot in the masterplan.

Xu is a former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

The question raised by Xu is a practical one. Although Hong Kong and Shenzhen are connected by land and sea, Hong Kong’s development has concentrated in the south – leaving the north to lag far behind.

When Hong Kong was still a colony, the political center was around Victoria Harbour and development naturally concentrated along it.

Since 1997, the geopolitical center has shifted toward the north and local development should have shifted in parallel too.

The problem is that, despite the political shift, officials continued to stick to the old concept and referred to Victoria Harbour as the center.

The New Territories have been developing at a pace slower than it should have been.

In face of the Qianhai special economic zone that calls for stronger cooperation with Shenzhen, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po disclosed that land use along the border strip would be reviewed with a view to designating sites for various industrial and commercial uses.

Kwu Tung, meanwhile, will be mainly used for residential development.

It is true that much has changed over the years and government planners must take into account the rapid development in Shenzhen.

The private sector is more flexible than the state. No wonder, the developers are acting ahead of the bureaucrats in adapting to the trend.

Maksim Chau

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