Political visions of Hong Kong’s urban development
The election season for 2012 has already started in Hong Kong. The hot issue is a three-way race for chief executive – the top political post – which is selected by an election committee of 1,200 members, whom are “elected” themselves by a relatively small eligible electorate of about 200,000 people.
For anyone to get to the starting line, he or she must get 150 nominations from these 1,200 members. Right now, there are three camps vying to get enough nominations.
The pan-democratic camp is assured their candidate will get the nominations needed because there are 205 election committee members with pro-democracy inclination.
The pro-establishment camp is represented by Henry Tang, who was the former chief secretary, the 2nd highest post in the government. He has also held senior government posts in commerce and as financial secretary. He will have no trouble with getting enough nominations.
Another candidate is Leung Chun-ying, the former convenor of the government’s executive council, who should also garner enough nominations to get started.
An early taste of what a three-way contest could be like took place on 9 December at a forum organized by Civic Exchange and six other non-government bodies on urban development issues, which included land policy, how government finance physical infrastructure, urban planning and design, reclamation, harbour-front development and transport.
There is agreement from all the candidates that there should be no further reclamation within Victoria Harbour but reclamation outside the harbour limits could be considered. The question is whether some kind of statutory harbour authority to co-ordinate the many aspects of harbour-front planning and design, involving many government departments, could be properly aligned and implemented. Reclamation remains a way for politicians to increase land supply.
Land is very expensive in Hong Kong and the government controls land supply and land usage change. As it continually creates new land for sale, and is also continually renewing leases or exacting payments for changes in land use, the government’s land-related incomes bears the characteristics of recurrent revenue. There may be blips because the government decides to restrict land sales but the recurrent revenue character is quite clear over the years.
Land revenues are kept separate from other government revenues in something called the Capital Works Reserve Fund (CWRF) to use for capital works. However, if land revenues were taken into the operation account rather than into the CWRF, it would permit a significantly higher level of expenditure on current items, such as public health, welfare provision, education and environment. As the system currently stands, public spending is biased towards capital spending.
When asked what the four candidates thought about whether the CWRF could be closed or more land related revenues could go to fund non-capital works, there wasn’t really a clear answer from the candidates.
An interesting discussion took place between Henry Tang and the audience on electronic road pricing (ERP). Is ERP right for Hong Kong? Tang said he welcomed a discussion. The issue about ERP and Hong Kong is modal choice. The purpose of ERP is to influence the choices made by road users.
In much of the world those choices focus on:
(a) Time of day (discouraging discretionary use at peak); and
(b) Route selection (encouraging the shift toward less congested alternative routes).