英文

Editorial : The land at Penny's Bay

【明報專訊】A plot of land measuring 60 hectares adjacent to Hong Kong Disneyland has been left idle for many years, and the government has decided not to extend the theme park's purchase option on it. Owing to the pandemic and public sentiments, it will be difficult for the tourism industry to return to its former glory in the foreseeable future. Instead of continuing to reserve large areas of land at Penny's Bay and allowing the theme park to consider whether to expand into the land at its leisure, it is better to convert the land for other uses as soon as possible.

The second phase of Penny's Bay land reclamation project was completed in 2009. The land reclaimed, equivalent to 3.2 Victoria Parks in area, was originally reserved for the second phase of Disneyland expansion. Over the past eleven years, the land has been idle prolongedly, while there was never a scheduled second-phase expansion project. Early this year the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. The government used part of the land to build a quarantine centre, making some use of the land — though temporarily — at long last. The theme park had ten years to consider whether to purchase the land for the second phase. However, after considering the economic situation, the government has decided not to extend the purchase option.

No doubt the theme park will not be happy with the fact that the plot of land has fallen out of its pocket. But these are different times. The local tourism industry has been hit by the anti-amendment storm and the pandemic and its outlook is not bright. The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to the global aviation and tourism industries; the impact could continue for years. The Disneyland in Shanghai has diluted the appeal of Hong Kong Disneyland. The changes in public sentiments have dampened mainland tourists' enthusiasm about visiting Hong Kong. It can be seen that it will be difficult for Hong Kong's tourism industry to return to its heyday. Last year there were 6.5 million visitors to the park. According to the agreement between the government and Disneyland, even if the government agrees to extend the purchase option for five years, the license can be renewed for another five years only if the number of visitors reaches eight million in 2025. It is uncertain whether the threshold will be reached. From a business perspective, there is not an incentive for the park to begin the second development phase, and the public will not support spending tens of billions of dollars from the public funds on the park. The government has no reason to allow the land to remain in the hands of a non-existent occupant.

There is a shortage of land for housing in Hong Kong. Over the next few years, there will even be a "fault line" in public housing. Obviously, it is not in society's interests for the government to allow a plot of government land measuring dozens of hectares to be left idle indefinitely. The purchase option of the theme park expired yesterday (September 24), and the authorities should study how the land can be used in the long term. There have always been views in society that the Penny's Bay site should be used for constructing public housing and developing new towns. Government officials also mentioned early this year that the land in question can be used to build transitional housing. The government agreed to reclaim 32 hectares of the Fanling Golf Course for putting up housing. At 60 hectares, the reclaimed land at Penny's Bay is double the area of the Fanling Golf Course and should be put to good use. However, the government has been hamstrung by the restricting agreement signed between itself and Disneyland.

While 60 hectares of reclaimed land might seem large, it is far from enough to fill the short- to medium-term land gap, let alone replacing other mid- to long-term land supply options such as near-shore reclamation outside Victoria Harbour and the artificial island project in the central waters. It is still necessary for other short-, medium- and long-term land reclamation plans to be implemented at full throttle. The pace should be accelerated. There should be no more delays.

明報社評2020.09.25:善用竹篙灣填海地 中長期造地須加快

香港迪士尼樂園毗鄰一幅60公頃土地閒置多年,政府決定不再延長園方認購權。受疫情和民情影響,旅遊業可見將來難復舊觀,與其繼續在竹篙灣預留大片土地,讓園方慢慢考慮是否認購擴建,不如趁早將土地改作其他用途。

竹篙灣第2期填海計劃2009年完成,面積相當於3.2個維園,原本預留作迪士尼樂園第2期擴建之用。過去11年,相關土地長期閒置,樂園第2期擴建無期,今年初疫情爆發,政府將部分土地用來興建檢疫中心,總算有暫時用途。樂園原本尚有10年時間考慮是否認購第2期用地,然而政府考慮經濟狀况後,決定不再延長該地的認購權。

大片土地突然再非囊中物,樂園方面當然不會高興,可是此一時彼一時,本港旅遊業先後受到反修例風暴和疫情衝擊,前景並不樂觀。疫情重挫全球航空業旅遊業,影響隨時延續多年,上海迪士尼分薄了香港迪士尼吸引力,加上本地民情變化、內地旅客訪港興趣下降,可見將來香港旅遊業很難重回全盛期。樂園去年入場人次為650萬,根據協議,就算現在政府同意先延長認購期5年,2025年時也要有800萬人次入場,方可再續期5年,能否達到門檻殊無把握,在商言商,看不到樂園有發展第2期的誘因,民情亦不會支持再為樂園花上百億元計公帑,政府無理由容許「生人霸死地」。

本港缺地建屋,未來數年公營房屋更面臨「斷層」危機,政府讓竹篙灣數十公頃官地無了期「曬月光」,顯然不符合社會利益。樂園土地認購權有效期昨天屆滿,當局應該盡快檢視相關土地長遠用途。社會一直有意見要求將竹篙灣填海地用來興建公營房屋,發展新市鎮,政府官員年初亦提過可用有關土地興建過渡房屋。政府同意收回粉嶺高球場其中32公頃土地建屋,竹篙灣60公頃填海地,面積多出一倍,當然應該善加利用,然而當年政府與迪士尼簽訂的限制契約,卻成為了緊箍咒。

竹篙灣60公頃填海地看似很大,然而遠遠不足以填補短中期土地缺口,更不可能代替其他中長期土地供應選項,諸如維港以外近岸填海,以及中部水域人工島計劃。其他短中長期造地方案仍須全力推進,加快步伐,不能再歎慢板。

■Glossary

生字

option : the right to buy or sell sth at some time in the future

at your leisure : when you have the time to do sth without hurrying

at full throttle : at full speed or power

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