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designing hong kong
HK community must get more involved in plans for the delta

Letter by Paul Zimmerman, first published in the South China Morning Post on February 22, 2011. Comments? Email [email protected].

The discussion over the "Action Plan for the Bay Area of the Pearl River Estuary" is wrongly cast as a battle between integration and autonomy. The real issue is good versus bad planning.
"One country, two systems" responded to the fears of many in China and Hong Kong, before the handover. But by now the focus should be on building one country out of two systems through dynamic integration. For matters such as law, autonomy of the two systems benefits Hong Kong and the mainland. However, as we breathe the same air, drink the same water, and as our economies are tied together, we need to integrate our transport and urban plans, and our environmental controls, for the Pearl River Delta.

The Bay Area action plan shows that planning progress is deplorable. It took 14 years to achieve plans for the delta. And when they came out, only a mini digest was available for the public to comment on within 10 days. The Planning Department said the study is just a collection of old plans rather than a mature strategic plan for the delta. This may be the painful truth reflecting the lack of inter-departmental co-operation in Hong Kong and across the border. Fortunately, people spoke up and the consultation has been extended, and more complete reports will hopefully be released soon.

So far, we have seen some good ideas, including emission control areas to limit air pollution by the shipping industry and green ways to be kept free from development. But the action plan's focus is more on promoting what will be saved rather than explaining how much more will be lost. Little detail is provided of the new developments and massive reclamations that will reshape the entire delta.

Black outlines indicate plans for new reclamations reshaping the delta.

The action plan has many new road and rail links, including cross-delta links the administration did not show when it consulted the community on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. Now we see that while we are building a road-only bridge between two cities which can't handle more vehicles, Shenzhen and Zhuhai are building a rail bridge we can use just north of Hong Kong.

When officials went to the Legislative Council for the express rail funding, they refused to include a station in the New Territories where half of our population live, because it would slow down the service. The mainland has included small stations and runs both local and express services along the new rail lines to Guangzhou. The action plan also confirms the Hong Kong-Shenzhen airport link with high-speed trains transferring passengers between airports. This link will again include a minor station, this time to stimulate the development of Qianhai - in Shenzhen of course. The Hong Kong community has yet to comment on the project.

Clearly, the mainland teams sweep the floor with our bureaucrats. The Hong Kong community should get involved early in the planning of the Pearl River Delta as it directly impacts the future living environment, infrastructure and economic opportunities. It is not a matter of autonomy over integration, but a matter of improving plans and projects before it is too late to make changes.

This plan indicating new towns, also shows the many new links in progress across the Pearl River, including a rail link just north of Hong Kong. With Macao and Hong Kong unable to cope with additional road traffic, the failure to include rail on the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macao Bridge is now more apparent than ever before.

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