Why we can't replicate Rose Garden Project speed

January 04, 2019 11:27
The key portions of the Rose Garden Project, including the new international airport, were completed in less than 10 years. Photo: CNSA

In October 1989, the then colonial governor of Hong Kong Sir David Wilson put forward in his policy address the Hong Kong Airport Core Programme, commonly known as the Rose Garden Project.

Eight years later, in 1997, the Tsing Ma Bridge, a key component of the project, officially opened to traffic, and the new Hong Kong International Airport came into service in the following year.

Fast-forward to October 2018: Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled her Lantau Tomorrow Vision (LTV) in her policy address, seeking to start the first stage of land reclamation in 2025, and the first batch of new homes to be available by 2032, which is still 14 years ahead.

Judging from the delays suffered by other massive infrastructure projects in our city in recent years, the Hong Kong leader may be a bit over-optimistic about her projections for her LTV proposal.

Some members of the Task Force on Land Supply noted that the SAR government simply doesn’t compare with the former colonial administration when it comes to speed with which major infrastructure projects are implemented.

It is said that the Hong Kong government didn’t even have a solid building plan on hand when Wilson proposed the Rose Garden Project.

However, according to Mak Chai-kwong, former development secretary who participated in the Rose Garden Project back in the 1990s, there were actually several factors that contributed to the astounding progress of the project back then.

He told us that although the administration didn’t have any building plan for the project at the time, it had carried out a study on the suitable location for the new airport, and, among the three available options, had chosen Chek Lap Kok.

And so, thanks to the “all-for-one-and-one-for-all” spirit in the government and the adequate supply of young labor force in the local construction industry at the time, the project got off the ground quickly and smoothly.

The Rose Garden Project consisted of 10 core projects, such as the New Airport, Lantau Link, Airport Railway, Western Harbour Crossing, and West Kowloon Reclamation, which were more or less completed in the same period.

The completion of these core projects was attributed to the full support given by the government. Some of these projects were built under the build-operate-transfer scheme, which proved instrumental in expediting their completion.

Mak, however, said the same set of standards 30 years ago is not expected to be applicable to existing infrastructure projects.

Moreover, he said, for those projects launched in recent years and were not so controversial – the MTR West Rail Line, for example – the completion would usually require about 10 years.

It is hard to anticipate how much time is needed to handle big infrastructure projects if such projects are met with fierce public opposition or even judicial review lawsuits filed by some citizens, Mak added.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.