Building foundation for re-election

Editorial | Mary Ma 7 Oct 2021

As predicted, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor did mention the highly sensitive issue of Article 23 - but the dominant part of her policy speech was undoubtedly about housing and infrastructure.

It was her last policy address for the present tenure - but it is hard to say it will be her final one.

Almost all the major initiatives in this policy document will take a number of years to accomplish, while her present term of office will end in about eight months.

Lam kept ducking media questions on her re-election plans. Nonetheless, the answer was written on the wall with the address she delivered yesterday.

Even if it was not a masterpiece, it was definitely the longest speech she has ever made. Lasting 140 minutes and with a total length of 168 paragraphs, it saw Lam spelling out her wish in the name of "Building a Brighter Future Together."

She proposed building the northern New Territories into a new metropolis to provide housing and employment opportunities for a projected population of up to 2.5 million - about 30 percent of the SAR's current population size.

The entire Northern Metropolis will cover Yuen Long and the North District, encompassing existing towns including Tin Shui Wai and Fan Ling and new ones in areas including Kwu Tung North, San Tin and Lok Ma Chau.

In total, the proposed border metropolis will occupy some 300 square kilometers and will be connected by an expanded rail network.

This is an ambitious project - more ambitious than the previous one covering East Kowloon in which the government set out to transform Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong into the SAR's second business district comparable to Central.

It's clear the focus of the Lam administration's planning policy has shifted from the south to the north.

If harborfront districts were the emphasis of development over the years, the focus is now firmly on the northern region bordering Shenzhen as part of the Greater Bay Area.

How successful the Northern Metropolis is going to be will depend on the progress of the Greater Bay Area.

If former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa managed to ditch his ambitious housing plan by not mentioning it altogether, Lam failed to follow suit in respect of her Lantau reclamation project. She did mention it, but without the emphasis previously accorded to it.

Lam knows that party politics have been fundamentally transformed. She also knows that, after the opposition was eradicated, sensitive land resources including privately owned farmlands, brownfields and ancestral sites are now all open to her.

The newly found land at her disposal includes 600 hectares that will be tapped from ecologically sensitive wetlands and buffer zones.

As Lam delivered the speech, her government officials were already briefing reporters that stringent ecological assessments may be relaxed to make it easier to develop these ecologically sensitive places.

Together with a plan to restructure the government that was also widely reported ahead of the speech, Lam has laid out a blueprint to win Beijing's nod.

Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei called the policy address a platform for Lam's re-election.

Lo probably hit the spot.

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