Speech at Council Meeting-Members’ Motions “Proactively responding to national development strategies by following up on the development of the Northern Metropolis”

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

Deputy President, about two years after the announcement of the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy by the Government at the end of 2021, the Northern Metropolis Action Agenda (“Action Agenda”) finally came in October last year.  Adopting the “industry-driven and infrastructure-led” approach as the key axle, the Northern Metropolis is officially planned to be divided into four major zones from the west to the east according to their geographic locations and the surrounding environment, namely High-end Professional Services and Logistics Hub, the Innovation and Technology (“I&T”) Zone, the Boundary Commerce and Industry Zone, and the Blue and Green Recreation, Tourism and Conservation Circle.  It is believed that their different positioning will attract enterprises in related industries to come together, creating a clustering effect to facilitate the development of the industries and enhance their competitiveness.

The Action Agenda has provided a timetable in respect of the direction of industrial development and land development and yet, there is still a lot to be done to ensure that the industrial policies are put into practice.  As I said in the debate on the Policy Address, apart from advance planning and land development, the Northern Metropolis Co-ordination Office (“NMCO”) and the relevant departments should coordinate all their efforts in various aspects, such as attraction of businesses, admission of talents, tax exemption and reduction, financial assistance, as well as living and housing.  Only in this way can it be conducive to implementing the established industrial policies and linking up the strengths of various sectors through government-led endeavours, thereby enhancing the efficiency of resource allocation and facilitating the rapid and timely realization of the planning vision.

The development of the Northern Metropolis spans 20 years and cannot be completed in a short period of time.  It takes time and patience to set up and improve the industrial chains, and emerging industries also require policy support in order to take root in the area.  The Northern Metropolis and Shenzhen are neighbours, and the transformation of Shenzhen from a backward agricultural economy to a modern industrial system with relatively strong innovation capability and competitiveness is inseparable from an effective industrial policy.  Through the establishment of market systems for products, labour, land, technology, capital, etc., and the nurturing of market players, fundamental institutional arrangements have been made for the growth of industries.  Since Shenzhen has already provided a good example for reference, NMCO can more proactively study and understand the models and mechanisms adopted by Shenzhen in order to learn from it.

Deputy President, over the past century or so, Hong Kong’s development has been highly concentrated on the two sides of the Victoria Harbour, whereas the northern part of the New Territories has seen slower development.  Although a number of new towns are now equipped with basic amenities, most of them cannot provide sufficient employment opportunities, and the home-job balance there is far from good.  Having eight development goals and being an area integrating quality life, industry development, culture and leisure, the Northern Metropolis not only serves as a major source of land and housing supply in the future but also encompasses long-term planning specific to the industrial upgrading and restructuring as well as the development pattern of “South-North dual engine (finance-I&T)”.

Nurturing new emerging industries with diversified development patterns is worth looking forward to, as this will not only help reduce the reliance on a single industry and enhance the resilience of the Hong Kong economy, but also change fundamentally the past development pattern of centering on the two sides of the Victoria Harbour.  In the future, through the development of I&T and other industries, the Northern Metropolis will provide more residential units and employment opportunities in the New Territories and this hopefully can achieve a better home-job balance.

The Government introduced the Hong Kong Major Transport Infrastructure Development Blueprint in December last year.  Judging from the overall layout, the Northern Metropolis will be the top priority.  Among the enhanced “three railways and three major roads”, two railways and two major roads are related to the Northern Metropolis, and the Government will build an additional “two railways and one major road” in the south of the Northern Metropolis to link up the transport networks.  However, it is often the case that the completion schedule of transport infrastructure cannot fully match the timetable of land development.  For instance, the Government expects that 40% of the residential units will be completed by 2032, but the Northern Link Main Line will be completed only in 2034 to 2038, and such a time gap will cause inconvenience to the residents and dampen the desire of enterprises to make investment.  In view of this time gap, the Government should come up with a transitional plan, or at least, properly provide support facilities for commuting to and from the area, so that the first batch of residents and enterprises to be moving in will not be made “trailblazers”.

Market force is also a very important component of the development process of the Northern Metropolis.  The Government will set up the Committee on the Financing of Major Development Projects and the Office for the Financing of Major Development Projects to harness market force to meet the investment and financing needs.  As a matter of fact, how to attract private investment is the key to resolving this problem.  The SAR Government should, on the basis of the existing public-private partnership (“PPP”) approach, boldly adopt innovative PPP arrangements for the Northern Metropolis, with a view to enhancing its attractiveness to the private sector.

I am very grateful to Ms CHAN Yuet-ming for proposing this motion for this Council to have detailed discussion on the planning of the Northern Metropolis and the main issues relating to its implementation.  I support the original motion and the amendments proposed by the 11 Members.

Deputy President, I so submit.