【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.
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