Grand vision for tech park on northern border but many doubt benefits

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A funding of $800 million is needed for the early-stage development of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park in the Lok Ma Chau Loop, the government said, but policymakers doubt it will live up to its billing.

In a Legislative Council Public Works Subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, the government requested the fund from the council. If approved, construction will commence in mid-2018.

According to the Budget revealed by financial chief Paul Chan Mo-po last month, $20 billion will be allocated to develop the park. It represents two-fifths of the budget for promoting innovation and technology.

But the$20 billion allocated will not be enough as the government estimated the development costs of the park will be at least $75 billion.

The government expects the development of the park can generate annual economic benefits of up to $60 billion and create 50,000 jobs. Some tech startups from mainland China already expressed interest in coming to the park because of the friendly entry-exit measures for workers and Hong Kong’s legal system.

The plan, however, has raised the eyebrows of many who question whether it wil effectively serve its purpose.

Industry insiders: wrong location

Law Ka-kit, an analyst programmer at GTI Limited, told Harbour Times of the lukewarm response from the IT industry that he has been in for years.

“Most of the IT firms are located in Central, Kwun Tong or Lai Chi Kok in Hong Kong. In particular, all the local big firms and foreign companies are in Central. It takes at least an hour to commute to Lok Ma Chau. It is unrealistic, and there is no motivation for IT firms to set up offices there,” says Law.

“The park is just too far from Hong Kong’s city centre. It is not a good place to hold meetings that are needed in the industry. I assume only the companies in Shenzhen would be interested in doing business there. It is quite clear the development is not for benefiting Hong Kong’s tech startups,” he continues.

Law’s view was echoed by some lawmakers who expressed similar concerns in the meeting on Wednesday.

Kwok Ka-ki from the Civic Party cited the industry insiders that explain that many employees work from home and communicate with foreign companies online, saying there is no need to commute all the way to the north for work.

Lawmakers: sole benefit for Shenzhen, questionable spending, lack of support

Wu Chi-wai from The Democratic Party doubts if the development of the park can promote technology and innovation in Hong Kong. He said the park should not just aim at attracting talents from mainland China but aslo international firms in order to develop Hong Kong into a forerunner in technological advancement.

“It will not be of any significance if it only serves Chinese companies,” Wu said.

Wu’s concern was shared by Fernando Cheung from the Labour Party, who said the government is using Hong Kong’s resources to benefit the mainland workers and industry as the park is so close to Shenzhen.

“The development will be just another project that will cost hundreds of billions,” said Cheung.

Kwok also added that the construction of the new science park is likely to go over-budget and may cost HK$100 billion.

Some also worried about the lack of supportive facilities in the district.

Lau Kwok-Fun, a lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, questions if the transport and ancillary facilities in Northeast New Territories are sufficient enough to cope with the development that is poised to bring more traffic to the area, saying the traffic capacity of the area may be overloaded.

His fellow party member Leung Che-cheung also expressed the same concern about the traffic flow, as trucks will frequently travel in the area during the construction period.

The Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park, three times the size of the Science Park, is a joint effort initiated by Hong Kong and Shenzhen in 2017, aiming to become the largest local innovation and technology platform and attract top-tier industry players from Hong Kong, mainland cities and the rest of the world.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, a national academic institution and R&D centre in China, is reportedly committed to establish its first offshore branch in the park.

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