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KING KONG

Hong Kong is maintaining its reputation for spawning landmark structures, despite the overall pace of construction slowing down. Jessica Rowson reports.

Hong Kong has been transformed in recent decades as new roads, bridges, skyscrapers and transport systems appeared on the landscape.

But a period of more considered construction is now emerging as the region develops a stronger environmental stance, brought on by locals lobbying to keep more of the remaining landscape intact.

"People are objecting more to new developments," says Hong Kong-based Arup associate Steve Kite. "Before, the developers could do pretty much what they liked. Now the people want to maintain the harbour and avoid further reclamation."

The harbour, he explains, is notably narrower than it used to be due to land reclamation.

But any slowdown in construction does not reflect the region's economy – business is thriving and, according to ICE Hong Kong regional director, Patrick Chan, "the government is collecting more tax, so there's a surplus of public revenue. But construction has not benefited."

Instead, the government is using public money only on projects which are absolutely necessary, because, says Chan, it is not worth the trouble when public objection is protracting the planning process to get the things built.

The slowdown has also been brought about by the fact that most of the necessary buildings and infrastructure have already been built and have eaten up much of Hong Kong island.


And with space at a premium, development is spreading out from the island to neighbouring suburbs on the mainland.

"There's a lot of development off Hong Kong island now due to limited space," says Kite.

"Hong Kong island was where everyone wanted to be. Now there's a lot going on in Kowloon."

Relationships and connections between Hong Kong and mainland China are also strengthening.

"The mainland Chinese towns just over the border are developing rapidly and we're seeing more collaboration between Shenzhen [in China] and Hong Kong and Macao," says Kite.

The next "big one" is the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge. And it will be massive.The proposed crossing from Hong Kong across the Pearl River Estuary to Macao and Zhuhai in southern Guangdong is still at a very early design stage, but at 36.3km for the main crossing and 26.5km of connecting roads, the huge scale of the project is immediately apparent.

The three governments involved have agreed on a funding strategy, indicating that the tender package could go out later this year (NCE 6 March).

The crossing comprises a 29.6km main bridge section and a 6.7km immersed tunnel. The crossing will plunge into a tunnel where it would be impossible to build a superstructure which could accommodate the marine traffic in the area. The transition from bridge to tunnel will take place on two artificial islands.

Major construction under way in Hong Kong is focused around the 1.6km-long Stonecutters Bridge, which will be the second largest spanning cable stayed bridge in the world and the 118-storey International Commerce Centre in west Kowloon. Upon completion in 2010, the skyscraper will be Hong Kong's tallest building at 484m and the world's third tallest in terms of usable floors. Due to planning restrictions, the height was scaled back to maintain sightlines to surrounding mountain ranges.

Height has also been restricted on one of the last remaining empty waterfront sites along Victoria Harbour.

New government and legislative council buildings will be built on this 4.2-hectare plot and are due for completion in 2011. Their height has been restricted to 180m above datum so that the buildings behind the site retain their views over the harbour.

RAIL EXPANSION CONTINUES APACE

Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) and Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) merged last year, but construction work on new lines has been unaffected by the changes at the top.

Up to December 2007 KCRC owned and operated a network of heavy rail, light rail and feeder bus routes within the territory and MTRC owned and operated the rapid transit railway system in Hong Kong. Now, KCRC is no longer a public transport operator. The rail and feeder bus network was leased to the MTR Corporation and all traces of KCRC have been removed from stations. It is hoped that the merger will lead to a more integrated rail network.

As if to prove this, work on the Kowloon Southern Link started in 2005 and is due to be completed by 2009. The second tunnel bore should be complete by the end of the month. The link will connect the East Rail Line's East Tsim Sha Tsui Station with the West Rail Line's Nam Cheong Station. This new 3.8km-long rail link will allow passengers on the West Rail Line direct access to East Rail services.

Plans are also afoot to construct the West Island Line and the South Island Line.


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