Hong Kong's leader has promised to control construction costs for a vast metropolis she proposed to develop near the border with mainland China, while also reassuring residents it would not create severe traffic congestion.
A day after unveiling her most ambitious policy blueprint to date, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she would ensure spending on a series of major infrastructure projects was evenly distributed and managed, despite her term of office coming to an end in eight months.
Lam made the commitment a day after she delivered the final policy address of her tenure, in which she floated an ambitious plan to build a Northern Metropolis near the border with Shenzhen, with an innovation and technology corridor as its engine.
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The metropolis, which will include existing towns in Tin Shui Wai, Yuen Long, Fanling and Sheung Shui, and their neighbouring rural areas, as well as six new development areas under planning or construction, aims to house 2.5 million people in 20 years.
Her proposal is considered a major strategic change for development, moving the centre away from Hong Kong Island to the north, to integrate the city into the latest national development plan.
Five railway projects linking the city with the mainland have also been proposed to complement the development of the metropolis, but that has raised questions as to whether the city has sufficient manpower to support the series of large projects, alongside her Lantau Tomorrow reclamation plan.
The government has not said how much the proposed metropolis will cost.
On Thursday, Lam brushed aside concerns that construction costs would be driven up because of the government's aggressive planning.
"We have put a lot of effort into training a new generation of construction workers in recent years," Lam told a radio phone-in programme. "An office has also been specifically set up under the Development Bureau several years ago to control building cost.
"It has significantly helped reduce the cost by eight to 10 per cent without compromising the project's quality."
The building method, known as Modular Integrated Construction, which involves free-standing, integrated modules being fabricated, finished and inspected in a factory, then transported to a building site for installation, reduced the price further, she added.
"I would not be too worried about the problem," Lam said.
The chief executive also sought to reassure residents that her proposals would not create new problems for society, such as worsening the traffic congestion between the New Territories and the city centre.
Lam was responding to a caller who pointed out traffic, particularly in the tunnels linking the New Territories and Kowloon, was already very busy at rush hour.
But the city's leader admitted that given the previous new towns were not self-sustaining, lots of residents had no choice but to commute for work.
However, she expected the same would not happen in the new metropolis, where she said there would be ample job opportunities, especially in innovation and technology, given its proximity to Shenzhen.
The government would also move a number of offices currently located in Admiralty to the new metropolis, she said, which would help balance the traffic flow.
Ling Kar-kan, the government's strategic planning adviser for Hong Kong-Shenzhen cooperation, said on Wednesday that the Northern Metropolis' future residents would be able to take up jobs in the area without having to commute to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island.
But he conceded the plan did not add new transport links between the new metropolis and the existing urban centre, and agreed there was a need for a comprehensive transport study to strengthen the connection.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Northern Metropolis or 'castle in the air'? Critics mostly agree on direction of Hong Kong leader's policy blueprint, but question cost of grand plans
- Hong Kong set to transform innovation and technology strategies with deserted areas near border with mainland China earmarked for IT development