Hong Kong's government planners are out of control
Proposals to reclaim vast tracts of land from the sea are unnecessary; with population projections indicating that the city will not need that much space
Jan 06, 2012 (SCMP)
The government-developer complex in Hong Kong is out of control and urgently needs to be reined in.
On Wednesday, the government announced proposals for new reclamation projects at up to 25 sites around Hong Kong's coastline, with plans for vast new artificial islands complete with bridges and tunnels to connect them to the city.
The government says all this reclamation is necessary to provide the 1,500 hectares of additional building land Hong Kong will need by 2039.
(Although if all the proposed projects were to go ahead, the total reclamation area would come to around 3,000 hectares. That's more than twice the size of Lamma Island and more land than Hong Kong has reclaimed from the sea since 1990, even including the massive airport and West Kowloon reclamation projects.)
The government says Hong Kong will need this new land to house its swelling population, which the Census and Statistics Department projects will grow by 25 per cent over the next three decades to hit 8.9 million in 2039.
Let's examine those figures for a moment. According to official figures, in the middle of last year the city's "usual resident" population numbered 6.9 million.
Over the past 10 years, our annual birth rate has averaged 9.2 babies per 1,000 inhabitants, while the death rate has averaged 5.6 per thousand.
If we assume those rates won't change, and that there will be no net migration, projecting Hong Kong's population growth over the next three decades gives us a city of just 7.6 million usual residents in 2039 (or 7.9 million if you count the "residents" that don't actually live here); a far cry from the government's 8.9 million forecast.
But even that projection overstates likely population growth, because our birth rates and death rates will change. Hong Kong has an ageing population, with more than half the population over 40 and one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. That means, as our population gets even older, there will be more deaths and fewer births. This declining natural growth rate means the city's population will fall well short even of 7.6 million usual residents by 2039.
In other words, the government's population projection assumes not only that the immigration rate will rise almost 50 per cent compared with recent years, but that those immigrants will be busy making lots of babies.
This is hard to swallow, especially given the government's hostility even to granting permanent residency to long-serving maids.
Other demographers agree. Working from the same starting point and factoring in a moderate but declining immigration rate (which makes sense as the mainland grows richer relative to Hong Kong), the US Census Bureau projects that Hong Kong's population will peak in the middle of the next decade and then decline to 6.9 million by 2039. That's two million fewer than the government's forecast (see the chart).
So you have to wonder why we need to reclaim all that building land from the sea. The truth is that Hong Kong is neither short of housing, nor of land to build on. In his policy address in October, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen admitted that the city has more than 200,000 flats sitting empty. That's enough to meet all housing demand for the next eight years.
On top of that, the government is already freeing 3,000 hectares for building by re-zoning and re-developing unused or underused land, largely in the New Territories.
And if that is not enough, Hong Kong boasts an additional 2,600 hectares of industrial land (which doesn't include land devoted to transport infrastructure), much of which can be redeveloped relatively cheaply in the future.
As a result the government's latest reclamation plans don't just look unnecessary, they look nuts.
It's hard to conclude anything except that the planners and their construction industry cronies have run completely amok, crazed by the prospect of getting their hands on the government's huge fiscal reserves and using them to build ever more grandiose, expensive and unneeded civil engineering projects.
They need to be stopped.