Conundrum on how best to use our port
Some are calling for the site to be used for housing, while others argue that the logistics industry provides tens of thousands of jobs; how Hong Kong navigates those two essential needs will be a challenge.
Not that long ago it would have been hard to imagine Hong Kong’s leader saying that the future of its container port must be resolved sooner or later. It was, after all, one of the world’s busiest. Its future seemed assured. There was certainly no talk of taking back the 300-plus hectares it occupies to meet Hong Kong’s housing shortage. Now it has slipped to No 9. Shenzhen (fourth) and Guangzhou (fifth) have overtaken it. The trend can be expected to continue. These days most of its container business serves the Pearl River Delta and southern China markets.
Urged to take back the land for housing, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitted the terminal was now less competitive, but said there were no current plans to change the use of the site. The government is caught in the middle between a land shortage, terminal stakeholders’ rights and the job security of thousands. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who sits on Lam’s Executive Council, called on her to commit the land for housing. “Hong Kong does not need that many container ports,” she said. Lam rightly said the issue was sensitive and one that would require strategic planning.
Ultimately, however, a way must be found to integrate the city’s infrastructure with the Greater Bay Area. Indeed, Lam said the bay area master plan required the governments of Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong to improve and integrate their ports and airports. “The problems have to be resolved sooner or later as it is not a good thing to see the industry continue to be weakened,” she said. “Especially when land is the most valuable resource for us.”
Hong Kong Seaport Alliance, formed by four of the five container port operators at Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, said the port and logistics industry’s high efficiency and free-port status had been Hong Kong’s competitive edges. In 2018, the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply suggested exploring the option of relocating the port to make way for housing. It comes down to how to integrate the port with Beijing’s Greater Bay Area vision and save or create jobs, while making the best socio-economic use of Hong Kong’s most precious resource after its people – land. It is a challenge to the city’s reputation for resilience and ability to adapt.