Budget gets thumbs up from construction industry

Budget gets thumbs up from construction industry

The government’s new budget may have been panned for not doing enough to help the needy, for the construction industry at least the continuing high level of public spending on infrastructure and new spending proposals in the budget was welcome news.

Hong Kong Construction Association president Thomas Ho On-sing said the general direction taken by the Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah on infrastructure spending to support the economy and tackle social problems was the right one.

“It is positive for the whole of Hong Kong,” Ho said.

In his budget address Wednesday to the Legislative Council on spending proposals for the coming 2013-14 financial year, Tsang sounded out several proposals that would provide more work for contractors who are already dealing with bulging order books.

The Ocean Park MTR station under construction. The government is committed to spending HK$70 billion a year on public works for the  next few years.  (Danny Chung)

The Ocean Park MTR station under construction. The government is committed to spending HK$70 billion a year on public works for the next few years. (Danny Chung)

These include spending as much as HK$45 billion on construction of new hospitals and redeveloping existing ones, a proposal for a desalination plant at Tseung Kwan O, and spending HK$4.5 billion over five years on studies for reclamation outside Victoria Harbour, opening up new development areas and underground cavern use.

Other initiatives include speeding up development of the North Commercial District at Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok and reserving land for dedicated logistics facilities at Tsing Yi and Tuen Mun.

The government will also dust off the stalled Container Terminal 10 proposal and study it again in conjunction with another study on port facilities.

A second tunnel linking Tseung Kwan O and urban Kowloon is planned while a Tuen Mun to Chek Lap Kok Link is due to start construction this year.

Ocean Park will get a loan of HK$2.3 billion from the government to allow it to build the Water World attraction while rival Hong Kong Disneyland will add a new Marvel heroes attraction which it will fund internally.

Estimated capital works expenditure will run at about HK$70 billion a year for the next few years compared with annual expenditure of HK$40 billion for the past five years.

“By late March 2013, our total commitments for capital projects are expected to be over $310 billion,” Tsang said.

Despite the splashing out of funds for infrastructure, Ho said he was “a bit disappointed” over the lack of new measures to attract new construction workers due to continuing shortages in certain trades such as steelfixers and carpenters caused by the construction boom.

Apart from mentioning that he allocated HK$320 million during 2010 and 2011 to support the Construction Industry Council’s work on training workers, the Tsang did not give new initiatives.

“In fact, I was really hoping that [Tsang] would say, ‘we will be increasing such and such funding to support [the training schemes]’ to attract more young people to enter the industry,” Ho said.

In a press release, the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors welcomed proposals to increase land supply for more housing and commercial property.

Tsang said in the five years starting in 2012-13, about 79,000 public rental housing units would be built while about 17,000 Home Ownership Scheme flats are expected to be built in the four years starting in 2016-17.

For private sector housing, Tsang estimated about 67,000 units would be completed in the next three to four years.

Land for providing new private units would come from the government’s land sale programme, railway property projects, Urban Renewal Authority projects as well as lease modifications and land exchanges.

On lease modifications and land exchanges, the press release said: “The Institute believes the government should allocate more resources to the relevant departments, increase staffing, and speed up processing and implementing government lease modifications to increase land supply.”

For commercial supply, the government would speed up the vacating of two clusters of government sites in Kowloon East to free up land for commercial redevelopment.

It has already started vacating the government offices at Wan Chai to allow for eventual redevelopment.

“We are now proceeding with the relocation of departments in the three government office buildings at the Wan Chai waterfront.  This is a large-scale project, involving 29 departments and more than 10 000 staff,” Tsang said.

In addition, the former headquarters of the Independent Commission Against Corruption at Murray Road is expected to be redeveloped into grade A offices.

Danny Chung

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