Land-hungry Hong Kong looks underground, as developers eye parks

Thu Oct 10, 2013 9:10am EDT
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By Yimou Lee and Alexandra Hoegberg

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Wild boar and water buffalo are not an image most people associate with one of the world's great global financial centres.

Yet in Hong Kong, where more than 7 million people are packed into just 30 percent of the territory, the green belts, country parks, woodlands and wetlands that take up the rest of the land provide ample space for such animals to roam.

That could be about to change. As officials scour the territory for new places to build, the prospect of going underground, creating man-made islands or developing the city's cherished parks are all among the options being discussed.

One idea is to build a cross-harbour pedestrian corridor - with shops and entertainment facilities along the way - underneath the city's kilometre-wide Victoria Harbour.

Encroaching onto the green spaces has strong support from Hong Kong's powerful property tycoons, who are feeling the heat from a series of tightening measures aimed at reining in prices that have jumped 120 percent since 2008.

Gordon Wu, chairman of developer Hopewell Holdings Ltd (0054.HK: Quote) and vice president of the Real East Developers' Association, calls the attachment to parks "stupid".

But some business executives say the rural habitats that make up the bulk of the former British colony's roughly 1,100 sq km (425 sq miles) help give the city an edge over rival global finance centres in the eyes of many expatriates.

"They like that you can get out of Central and be up walking in the hills in 15 minutes," said Simon Galpin, director-general of InvestHK, which supports foreign investment in Hong Kong.   Continued...

A man stretches his leg at Wilson Trail, a 78 km long-distance footpath at a country park named after former Hong Kong governor David Wilson, as he looks towards Tai Po district at Hong Kong's rural New Territories October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip