Motion on “Proactively responding to national development strategies by following up on the development of the Northern Metropolis” (2024.01.10)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, President. The Northern Metropolis is the most strategically valuable development for Hong Kong’s future. It serves as a major engine for Hong Kong’s industrial restructuring, and even as a “through train” for integration into the country’s overall development and connection with the Greater Bay Area. According to the Action Agenda recently published by the Government, the Northern Metropolis will comprise four zones, namely the Innovation and Technology Zone, the High-end Professional Services and Logistics Hub, the Boundary Commerce and Industry Zone, and the Blue and Green Recreation, Tourism and Conservation Circle, which involves massive infrastructure, planning, industrial innovation and financing. The relevant work must be done flawlessly. I thank Ms CHAN Yuet-ming for proposing the motion, and the 11 Members for proposing amendments, so that the Legislative Council can discuss this issue of such importance in detail.

Today, several Honourable Members have already analysed the development direction of the Northern Metropolis, so I will not repeat them and will only talk about the current challenges facing the Northern Metropolis. In fact, the Northern Metropolis as a whole is an extremely massive project, and it is indeed a great challenge for the Government to strive to complete 40% of the project by 2032. Since our return to the motherland, the land production process in Hong Kong has become increasingly lengthy. In recent years, the Government has worked hard to remove barriers and restrictions. The current-term Government has made great efforts to achieve excellence in its governance and has successively introduced a number of new measures. While I understand the Government’s determination, we must be on our toes as this is the first heavyweight project after the removal of barriers and restrictions. The Government has already set up a Steering Committee and a Co-ordination Office for the Northern Metropolis. However, the Co-ordination Office is only a department under the Development Bureau and does not have a high status, and the Steering Committee is not expected to be practically involved in the work. Therefore, the Government should elevate the level of the Co-ordination Office and place it directly under the leadership of the top echelon of the Government to coordinate the work of various departments, including the monitoring of land grants, housing construction, private investment, industrial development and even financing, so as to ensure that the various departments do not work in their own way, and that all of them will work together to implement the plan as perfectly as possible.

Another challenge is how to provide more convenient boundary crossing facilities. The Northern Metropolis must highly collaborate with Shenzhen, and the governments of the two places have already set up the Task Force for Collaboration on the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy to ensure smooth high-level cooperation. In reality, however, there are still many problems. The recent increase in the number of Hong Kong people travelling northward and the long queues at the boundary crossing points (“BCPs”) during peak hours, as well as the recent incident of Mainland visitors being stranded in Hong Kong on New Year’s Eve, have highlighted the fact that the existing boundary crossing facilities are unable to cope with the latest development. The number of people travelling between the two sides for business, work and leisure is expected to increase significantly in the future, and the current BCPs will be unable to cope with the increase. Unless we can ensure the unhindered flow of people and logistics, the success of the Northern Metropolis will be out of reach.

As Hong Kong is a separate customs territory, it is not possible to remove BCPs for the time being. The only thing the Government can do is to streamline clearance procedures. It has previously announced that it is studying the adoption of the “collaborative inspection and joint clearance” mode so that travellers only have to queue once to complete the clearance formalities, which it claims could take as little as 30 seconds. It is also considering the establishment of the Fulin Small BCP to allow registered persons to move around in the Loop without being inspected. I support these proposals, but I am still worried that they may not be sufficient to meet long-term needs. The Government should study the possibility of increasing the number of BCPs and using high-tech methods such as facial recognition. In the long term, it would be best to introduce “barrier-free” BCPs similar to those between European Union countries, although there will be many problems that need to be solved in adopting this mode.

In addition, the external transport links of the Northern Metropolis are also a major challenge. The Government is now studying the implementation of the “two railways and one major road”, namely the Northern Link Eastern Extension, the Northeast New Territories Line and the Northern Metropolis Highway. At the same time, it is also optimizing the “three railways and three major roads” proposed earlier to tie in with the development of the Northern Metropolis. The Government’s planning is very thorough and should be able to fit into the broader pattern of “South-North dual engine (finance-innovation and technology)”. What is worrying at the moment is when the construction can be completed, as both railways and highways take more than 10 years to construct. For example, the San Tin section of the Northern Metropolis Highway will not be completed until 2034 to 2038, but 40% of the housing units in the Northern Metropolis will have been completed by 2032. This time gap may hinder the early development of the Northern Metropolis, and the Government should get the various projects off the ground as soon as possible.

Lastly, we must talk about the issue of financing. The total investment in the Northern Metropolis amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars. In reality, however, some of the land will be available in 2032, at which time funds will begin to be recouped, and the actual amount of capital needed to maintain liquidity is not as much as one would have imagined. The Government has set up the Committee on the Financing of Major Development Projects to hinge on market forces to finance the Northern Metropolis. In fact, Singapore already enacted the Significant Infrastructure Government Loan Act three years ago to regularize the borrowing of funds for infrastructure projects. Currently, Singapore’s debt-to-GDP ratio has reached 140% as the country borrows to invest in the future. The international financial community recognizes Singapore’s good fiscal management, and I think it is worthwhile for Hong Kong to learn from it.

Thank you, President.

Scroll to Top