‘Bold” and “ambitious” are the right words to describe Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s fifth Policy Address delivered on Wednesday. When the major objectives set out in the new policy plan are fully achieved, it will become a game changer for Hong Kong.
Inarguably, at the root of all major deep-seated socioeconomic problems which have plagued Hong Kong for decades, and spawned social unrest in recent years, is the scarcity of developable land.
The Northern Metropolis, an ambitious development project aimed at turning the northern areas of Hong Kong’s New Territories into a metropolis providing up to 926,000 residential units, will fundamentally solve the city’s land shortage.
The new metropolis, when fully developed, will be able to accommodate a populace of about 2.5 million, or one-third of the city’s entire population, tackling for good the housing shortage which has contributed to a widening wealth gap.
Of equal, if not more, significance is that the ample urban space to be made available in the Northern Metropolis will also provide enough room for the development of an international innovation and technology hub, which will offer 650,000 jobs, including 150,000 in the innovation and technology sector, upon its full development.
The addition of a new and powerful engine of economic development, to be facilitated by the creation of an international I&T hub and auxiliary sectors, will go a long way to tackling the problem of stagnant upward social mobility for the younger generation because of a narrow industrial structure.
It is by design that the Northern Metropolis plan dovetails with the national 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25). To be connected by a railway-centered transport system with Shenzhen, the development of the Northern Metropolis, particularly the planned international I&T hub, will facilitate Hong Kong’s development integration with Shenzhen and other mainland cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Closer integration of Hong Kong into the Greater Bay Area is the first step for the special administrative region to play its role in future national development as designated in the 14th Five-Year Plan.
The Northern Metropolis is not “pie in the sky”, as some naysayers have called it. It will be turned into reality not least because it will benefit Hong Kong residents, especially the younger generations, and the development strategy underpinning this mega project is likely to have the central government’s blessing as it aligns Hong Kong’s development with that of the nation’s.
It goes without saying that a massive plan of such a scale will inevitably face huge challenges, not the least of which is the anticipated strong resistance from vested interests. But with the central authorities’ support, no challenge is unbeatable. After all, China is known for its ability to make miracles, of which Shenzhen is one.