Sad really. After getting unscathed through months of legal manoeuvring on the basis that the trial of the Occupy nine was an entirely legal matter, District Judge Johnny Chan found a political puddle in the sentencing process and jumped in it with both feet.

I refer to the intriguing passage in which the learned judge lamented that the defendants had shown no regret, had not apologised to the people of Hong Kong for the inconvenience and suffering caused by their actions, and consequently deserved immediate custodial sentences.

He preceded these remarks with the comment that he was not asking the defendants to change their political views, but that is exactly what he was doing.

As Philip Bowring has pointed out here the idea that Occupy caused a great deal of inconvenience, let alone suffering, is grossly exaggerated. It has, however, become a partisan political point among the pro-Beijing press of late.

Actually at the time I recall frantic, and vain, efforts being made to drum up some signs of people being seriously inconvenienced. Those efforts gradually subsided as they were hardly consistent with the government’s actions: weeks, and then months, went by without any attempt either to clear the protesters off the streets, or to address the grievances which had put them there.

But the judge really went off the rails with this idea of a missing apology. This is an entirely appropriate requirement in your ordinary everyday crime involving things of value being stolen or damaged.

If you steal a million dollars from me I am left poorer. I get nothing from the arrangement except the dubious pleasure of reporting my loss to the police. If, by the time they have caught up with you, the money has been expended on fast women and slow horses, I do not get it back.

Under these circumstances an apology is entirely appropriate, and may be accepted by the court as indicating that you accept that what you did was wrong. A somewhat shorter sentence may ensue.

Political offences are rather different. All political activity involves some inconvenience to the non-political parts of society. Battle buses take up road space, booths block pavements, loudspeakers inflict your oratory on reluctant passers-by, marching crowds slow the buses and my local minibuses are visually polluted by advertisements for the DAB.

The political activist, whatever his colour, supposes that these small sacrifices which he imposes in strangers are justified because his actions are for their benefit.

Consider the case of Dr John Snow, who during a cholera epidemic in London in 1854 had the then revolutionary idea of drawing a map with the locations of the cases on it, to see if that told him anything about the origins of the disease, then a mystery.

The centre of the epidemic, it appeared, was a public well in Soho. Dr Snow then persuaded the local council to remove the handle from the pump on that particular well, and the epidemic subsided.

This did actually inconvenience the residents of Soho, who had to go further to get their water. But they did not, I suppose, complain about this because it was nice not to get cholera. A public facility was disabled, but it was worth it.

The leaders of Occupy, so far as it had leaders, were not motivated by personal gain or the desire to cause inconvenience for its own sake. They supposed that it was for the greater good of all that Hong Kong should be encouraged to migrate from the foggy bottom of colonialism with Chinese characteristics to the sunny uplands of democracy and genuine autonomy.

I am sure they still believe this. And until they change that belief asking them to apologise does not really make sense.

You may of course say that suffering a cholera epidemic is much worse than having your Chief Executive chosen by Beijing, although looking at what recent choices have done to our health service that could be disputed.

You may on the other hand say that judicial enthusiasm for apologies to the general public is misplaced, because judges are not great apologisers themselves. People appear in court, get jailed, appeal and appeal again, and sometimes establish that the original judge, or the Court of Appeal, has made a mistake.

By this time the hapless defendant has spent many months in prison to which, we now learn, he should not have been sentenced. Does he get an apology?





Leo Goodstadt’s latest book, “A City Mismanaged” makes few concessions to those of us who read for entertainment. But it is worth a visit if you really want to know what went wrong with post-Handover Hong Kong.

Future historians will find some of this story difficult to believe. In the 80s there was a great fashion under the Reagan and Thatcher governments for the idea that almost all state activity was inefficient, and society could only benefit from providing the maximum of freedom for market forces.

Over the years the flaws in this line of thinking became obvious. In the countries where it originated Ayn Rand is now regarded as a daft old bat and the Chicago School of economics as a shared delusion with few points of contact with reality. Privatisation is not the answer to all questions and the fad for market forces easily degenerates into government in the interests of the rich.

These lessons, however, somehow failed to find their way to Hong Kong, where a succession of Chief Executives succumbed to free market fundamentalism, and in the process dismantled much of Hong Kong’s already far from generous welfare state.

Mr Goodstadt blames some of this on the ministerial system. Those who reach the top of the Hong Kong civil service are generally both intelligent and competent. Those who catch the eye of the Chief Executive (and pass the surreptitious vetting by the Liaison Office) generally are neither.

Mr Goodstadt also notes that tinkering with the boundaries between bureaux has left some of the new bureaucratic empires unmanageably big, while still managing to leave important issues straddling two or more secretaries.

But the basic problem, he argues, comes down to a misreading of the Basic Law, which actually gives Hong Kong people the right to the same services and rights as they had before, a point overlooked in favour of the clause about balanced budgets.

He points out that the central government seems a bit puzzled by the ministerial masochism it encounters in Hong Kong, and occasionally urges our local leaders to focus on local social problems.

He tracks the consequences of neglect and parsimony in four areas: health, social welfare, education and housing. In this last he adopts an interesting perspective and I found myself thinking heretical thoughts.

It was an axiom of the Thatcher years in Britain that people should be encouraged to own their own homes. And to this end a lot of public housing was sold to its occupants at knock-down prices.

This idea was imported uncritically to Hong Kong, and the provision of public housing was curtailed in the hope that private production of flats would take up the resulting slack. It did not, of course, and public housing is now back on the to-do list.

But it still seems taken for granted that the desirable housing solution for those who can afford it is an owned flat in a large tower block.

Mr Goodstadt points out that this approach leads to long-term problems. The owners are jointly responsible for the shared parts of the building, including the outside walls. Sooner or later expensive maintenance bills will come rolling in.

In some cases, unhindered by the ICAC (which does not find this area very interesting, apparently) the price of the work is artfully inflated to enrich the contractors. But even if it isn’t, a bill in the region of $200,000 is not uncommon, and this is a very large lump to extract from an ordinary middle-class family.

Note that in England the housing stock eagerly distributed to its occupiers consisted largely of two-storey houses. Maintenance is a continuing activity, what needs doing is visible, and many occupiers can undertake some of the work themselves.

Mr Goodstadt notes that the owners of flats in Hong Kong blocks tend to put off maintenance, a false economy. But this is probably inevitable. The owners’ joint committee will be composed of volunteers, and one of their main motivations for serving will be to keep costs down.

Even if this is not the case, however diligent the owners and conscientious the government’s supervision, a high-rise block is going to be prone to occasional mammoth bills rather than the steady drip produced by a suburban semi.

So I wonder if this preoccupation with ownership is really as good an idea as it is cracked up to be. A survey of 12 developed countries conducted by a team at Harvard University found a wide variation in attitudes to renting and owning.

The proportion of the population living in rented homes in 2016 varied from a low of 25 percent (in Spain) to highs of 50, 55 and 60 per cent (in Austria, Germany and Switzerland respectively).

The report noted a tendency for owner-occupiers to prefer single-family dwellings, while a large supply of flats in blocks was reflected in a large population of renters.

I infer from this that there is nothing wrong with renting, and no particular merit in owning, especially if you are in a large multi-storey block with the prospect, sooner or later, of a large bill to, say, replace the lifts.

I realise that encouraging renting would require some dramatic changes in the way the government supplies and taxes land, and would eventually – and rightly – lead to legislation to curtail excessive exploitation by greedy landlords.

It would also disturb the cosy arrangement by which a small coterie of developers enrich themselves fabulously by paying huge land prices and building flats for sale at commensurately high mark-ups. Well wouldn’t that be sad!








Well, the Occupy legal saga grinds on. Latest update on the trial of nine defendants here: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/04/10/just-sentencing-delayed-9-convicted-umbrella-movement-activists-court-seeks-report-tommy-cheung/

Basically these are the people who in disciplinary circles would be labelled “ringleaders”. The charges were some interesting legal antiques involving “inciting to commit a public nuisance”, and even “inciting to incite a public nuisance”.

All this has been much commented on. Having been convicted, the defendants made extensive mitigation speeches, readable here: https://www.hongkongfp.com/?s=in+full. The judge deferred sentencing pending reports.

Lurking in reports of the proceedings was an interesting legal issue. All or most of the defence lawyers commented, it appears, on the length of time taken by the prosecution to charge and try the defendants, as a factor which should mitigate the resulting sentences.

The delay was as follows: the offences took place in September 2014. Some of the defendants were not arrested until January 2017, and charged a further two months later. There followed a further two-year delay before the trial.

This produced a response from prosecuting counsel David Leung Cheuk-yin. Why he was allowed to offer this is a bit of a puzzle. Defence mitigation usually comes last, just before sentencing. The prosecution has had plenty of opportunities to express its bloodlust. Judge Johnny Chan would have given his reputation for fearless independence a timely boost if he had told Mr Leung to shut up.

However this did not happen. Mr Leung proceeded to say that the delay in prosecution should not be considered a factor in sentencing and “the defendants should not benefit from it”.

Mr Leung explained this long delay as being because “the police arrested 1,003 people in relation to the movement and had to go over 335 research reports, 300 witness statements and 1,133 videos”.

This is a little strange. Since “incitement” is a matter of public speech it is difficult to believe that 335 “research reports” were really necessary. Surely a few selected videos would have sufficed? As a taxpayer one must wonder if this huge investigative effort was worth it, when most of the defendants had effectively volunteered to plead guilty to unlawful assembly in 2014, while Occupy was still in progress.

Leaving aside the merits of Mr Leung’s claims to Stakhanovite levels of investigative enthusiasm, though, I would like to point out that legally it is not up to the defence to prove that it has been disadvantaged by a delay in bringing criminal proceedings. The delay is in and of itself a violation of their human rights.

As one of the standard textbooks puts it: “According to article 14 (3)(c) of the International Covenant and articles20 (4)(c) and 21 (4)(c) of the respective Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, every person facing a criminal charge shall have the right “to be tried without undue delay”. In the words of article7 (1)(d) of the African Charter, article 8(1) of the American Convention and article 6(1) of the European Convention, everyone has the right to be heard “within a reasonable time”.

This point is also recognised in the Department of Justice’s own Code for Prosecutors, which says that “The prosecutor must be alert to the rights of an accused which are relevant to the prosecution process, including equality before the law, the rights to have confidential legal advice, to be presumed innocent, and to have a fair trial without undue delay.” These rights are attributed to Basic Law Articles 25, 35 and 87, and  Bill of Rights Articles 10 and 11.

Of course this is because a delay is intrinsically hard on the defendant. His or her chances of mounting a successful defence are likely to diminish as memories fade and witnesses die or disappear. The prospect of an upcoming trial is itself stressful and disruptive of one’s normal enjoyment of life. So how long is a “reasonable time”?

Over to the UN Committee on Human Rights, of which it is reported: “The Human Rights Committee has examined numerous … cases involving alleged violations of this right … In one case, the Committee concluded that a delay of 29 months from arrest to trial was contrary to article 14… A delay of two years between arrest and trial was also considered to violate article 14. The judicial authorities were … responsible for the unreasonable delay of the proceedings contrary to article 6 in the case of Yagci and Sargin … In all, the proceedings lasted a little less than four years and eight months.”

The European Court of Human Rights has spent an astonishing 30 per cent of its caseload dealing with violations of the right to a speedy hearing. “it is for the Contracting States to organise their legal systems in such a way that their courts can guarantee to everyone the right to a final decision within a reasonable time in the determination of his civil rights and obligations”.

After so many cases of this kind the Court has developed the idea that states must also provide effective remedies for litigants or defendants subjected to unreasonable delays. These may include an arrangement in which  “the length of proceedings had been taken into account when reducing the sentence in an express and measurable manner.”

The European Court examines each case on its merits, and does not have a stated time limit. The Supreme Court of Canada is less timid. It “rejected the framework traditionally used to determine whether an accused was tried within a reasonable time under section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and replaced it with a presumptive ceiling of 18 months between the charges and the trial in a provincial court without preliminary inquiry, or 30 months in other cases.”

Similar limits are operated in many American states, They require, for all but the most serious felonies, prosecutions to begin within three years of the offence.

In the UK the National Audit Office expressed concern in 2016 that the average waiting time between first appearance before magistrates and the actual trial had increased by 23 per cent since 2010, and was now 132 days, or about four and a half months. This is an average and no doubt is sometimes greatly exceeded. I doubt, though, if these legal marathons commonly end with a plea from prosecuting counsel for inordinate length to be disregarded in sentencing.

Let us return to the Occupy nine and put their ordeal in an international perspective. Since the overall period between September 2014 (start of Occupy) and March 2019 (start of trial) was just short of five years it seems unavoidable that some of the defendants either were not charged until three years after the offence (which would let them off the hook in Oregon, etc) or were charged but not tried for 30 months (which would mean an automatic acquittal in Canada). We may also note that in countries signed up the European Convention on Human Rights a reduction of sentence to compensate for prosecutorial  ponderousness is not only allowed but expected.

I suppose Mr Leung would say in his defence that the delay was unavoidable because of the complexity of the case and the number of defendants. The easy answer to that is that these features were both chosen by him. There was nothing inevitable about the decision to drag a legal blunderbuss out of its grave, or to point it at nine defendants simultaneously.

We must also note that the length of a case is not only a matter of legal complexity, the need to gather large quantities of evidence, or the number of defendants. It is also controlled by the amount of resources and manpower devoted to the matter, and the degree of haste.

Consider a historic case from 1945: a new law, 24 defendants on war crimes charges. Evidence gathering could not really start until the war in Europe ended in May because before that the prosecutors had no access to Germany. Proceedings began in Nuremberg on November 20 and concluded in October of the following year. Speed can be achieved if it is wanted badly enough.

I suppose with so many offensive smells coming from this case the fact that it was pursued at a pace which was itself a violation of the defendants’ rights is rather a side issue. It does, though, suggest that the Department of Justice’s standards in these matters, as in others, are rather out of line with those in the rest of the world.


I keep putting off writing about Global Warming. It’s too big a topic for a journalist. One feels like a pavement artist suddenly recruited to redecorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

My professional education included the notion that any story worth telling could be told in ten paragraphs. We might run to 12 for the Second Coming, but only if this happy event occurred in our circulation area.

Any young cub who ignored this rule through ignorance or over-indulgence would swiftly discover that his art had been severely pruned before printing by the sub editors, who had a lot more hours in their logbooks than he did and consequently were not receptive to complaints about their work.

A journalist who reflects on his output soon realises that this insistence on brevity is both a blessing – it makes you concentrate – and a curse – some topics just do not lend themselves to the “news treatment”.

Now that our words are no longer committed to paper there is, in theory, no objection to extra length. On the internet you can rabbit for ever. Unfortunately the desire to reduce the damage inflicted on Scandinavian fir forests by the demand for newsprint has been replaced by apprehension about on-line readers’ ability to concentrate on any topic for more than five minutes.

As this piece contains no pictures of cats, or naked ladies, it is doomed to the sort of minority status enjoyed by chamber music or the more exotic East European liqueurs. But duty calls.

It called, in fact, in the shape of a demonstration by Hong Kong school kids, coinciding with similar manifestations around the world, protesting that global warming was a threat to their future and adults were not doing enough about it.

I was, I must admit, glad to see that strikes in schools had been reinvented, having long ago participated in one myself (see cutting). There were only 40 of us, apparently. I remember we excluded Forms Five and Seven on the grounds that they were preparing for exams and left the Form Fours out as too young.

Despite the tiny numbers involved the event attracted a surprising amount of media attention. As a result everyone who was not incurably shy got a media organisation to him or herself. Robin Marriner got the Daily Mirror; I got the BBC.

This leaves no particular problem for me in contemplating the idea that perhaps the protesting youngsters were right.

It has surely become impossible to doubt that global warming is taking place. We may feel that committees of scientists on fat UN salaries have a long history of wolf-crying. Can you name a food between Apple Pie and Zebra steaks which the WHO has not at some time condemned as hazardous to health?

Still, sometimes there is a real wolf. And the evidence has piled up. How many retreating glaciers, melting ice caps, dying coral reefs and record-breaking heat waves do we need before we concede that something is up. Like the global temperature.

And in view of our status as the biggest and busiest species on the planet it is very difficult to avoid the blame. Anyone who still disputes that global warming is taking place and that our activities have a great deal to do with it is either very stupid or in the pay of the coal industry.

What that means for the future is of course a matter for speculation, as the future always is. A variety of predictions are offered.

Many of us, perhaps lulled by a succession of Hollywood movies in which threats ranging from wandering asteroids to The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms are seen off in two hours by a handsome young American scientist and his generously-bosomed girlfriend, may still nurture the hope that “something will turn up”.

The scientists who say that things have already passed some mysterious tipping point which will in due course see most of the world become uninhabitable may be pessimists. But sometimes the pessimists are right.

Also, if there is such a mysterious tipping point and we have not yet reached it, we are certainly still ploughing towards it. Biologists now doubt the legend that lemmings occasionally, in moments of mass hysteria, fling themselves off Norwegian cliffs. But human beings have a long record of self-destructive behaviour.

The most drastic predictions are not necessarily the most likely. But when the possible outcomes include an uninhabitable planet it behoves us to take the matter seriously. As Yuval Harari said in a rather different context, those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.

This brings us to the second matter, which is, given that global warming is taking place and represents a serious threat to future generations, are our leaders doing enough about it?

I say this is a matter for our leaders because this seems so clearly to be an issue which demands collective action.

The students’ protest unleashed a flood of helpful suggestions from various quarters of ‘things you can do to help instead of protesting’. We are all urged to stop using straws, recycle bottles, eat less meat, take the stairs instead of the lift, take our own cutlery to school and so on and on.

Many of these things are good things to do. But as a way of dealing with global warming this sort of advice looks like the captain of the Titanic giving all the passengers a cup each and telling them to start baling if the ship hits anything.

Those who hog the steering wheel have the responsibility to avoid collisions. So how are our leaders doing? Well never mind the global circus. How are our local leaders doing?

Not so good. Taxed with neglecting environmental matters, that speaker for all seasons A. Spokesman said that the last budget included subsidies for the provision of electric charging points, which would encourage people to switch to electric cars.

This does not look like an environmental measure at all. It looks like another example of our government suffering from the delusion that it is up to them to foster the up-take of the latest gadget, however irrelevant and unwanted it may be. Remember digital radio?

The fact is that an electric car is not a solution to pollution. It merely transfers the pollution from on the street to the nearest power station. If most of your power comes from dams or windmills then electric cars do not pollute. If most of it comes from coal-fired power stations, as ours does, then I have some bad news for you.

Scientists at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute calculated the CO2 emissions from plug-in electrics, depending on the energy sources used to generate electricity in various countries, and then translated that into miles per gallon.

They found that an electric car recharged by a coal-fired plant produces as much CO2 as a gasoline-powered car that gets 29 miles per gallon.

And that, as a contribution to reducing pollution, is pathetic. Any prudent Prius driver can get 50 miles from a gallon and the tuning of an engine to charge a battery rather than push a car allows a considerable reduction in the other pollutants emitted.

Actually most of us will never buy an electric car because it would be foolish to do this if you depended on finding a public charging point when it wants to be fed. You want to be able to charge it at home. So you will only buy one if you own, or at least have the exclusive use of, a parking space. Government money spent on this is a subsidy for millionaires.

The government will no doubt say that the removal of some pollutants from the immediate environment is an improvement. You can walk down the street without being gassed even if our power stations are still poisoning the planet.

Not so. The smallest pollution particles are the most dangerous. They do not come from the exhaust pipe. They come from the brake pads and tyres, which are the same on electric cars as on petrol ones.

Actually from both a global and local perspective the responsible thing to do would be to discourage car use altogether, as some European cities are now doing. But our legislators, supine sycophants when invited to trash some cherished civil right which offends Beijing, find a streak of stubborn resistance when it comes to any official proposal which might make motoring more expensive.

So we cannot expect anything from there.

I conclude that the students are quite right. Rome is burning and the emperor is fiddling. They will pay the price. But our leaders, it has become obvious over recent years, do not care what young Hong Kongers think.


More on birds

You will not believe this. A faithful reader of mine lives in Morecambe, Lancashire, the seaside town on whose local paper I had my first journalist job. The newspaper is still there, and the passage which follows is a slightly trimmed version of a story about a gentleman known as the Morecambe Birdman, who was sent to prison for feeding pigeons. The local paper reported as follows:

“When John Wilkinson told his fellow prisoners he was in jail for feeding pigeons, they burst out laughing.

‘Some of them were in for murder or robbery with violence, and they couldn’t believe I was in for feeding birds,’ he said.

‘They thought I was winding them up.

‘Then they came to me a week later and said they realised I was telling the truth, because they’d seen me on TV.’

Mr Wilkinson, known as the Morecambe Birdman, was sent to prison for breaching an ASBO restricting his love of feeding pigeons, after years of complaints by neighbours.

He was jailed for six weeks and served just under half the sentence.

Hundreds of thousands flocked to social media to support the pensioner, many complaining that his punishment did not fit the crime.

The Visitor also began a campaign to Free the Morecambe Birdman.

Mr Wilkinson, 65, said being sent to prison will not stop him from feeding birds in Morecambe in future.

‘I regard being sent to prison as excessive and unjust’ he said.”

Brighton, the south coast town to which I used to resort for fun and diversion when I lived 20 miles up the road, has few claims to historical fame. The Prince Regent slept there, and rarely slept alone.

But in 1862 it was the scene of a historically important accident. Trains leaving Brighton in the general direction of London have to face a long climb up the South Downs, before they reach the Clayton Tunnel, which gave, and still gives, access to the more easy-going scenery of the Weald.

In the 1860s trains operated on the “time interval” system. A train leaving the station would be given a five-minute start before another one would be sent after it. And that was it. The trains were quite slow.

On the day in question three trains left the Brighton station and headed for the tunnel (picturesque north portal pictured below). Train number one passed the signal box before the tunnel and entered the portal. The signal at that point should have automatically moved to “stop”. It did not. A gadget was provided to warn the signalman that this important event had not occurred but by the time he realised what was going on train number two had passed the signal. So he waved a red flag from his window as the train went by.

Minutes passed. Train number three appeared, and waited at the signal which he had manually moved to “stop”. At this point the signalman made a serious mistake. He sent a message to his counterpart at the other end of the tunnel asking if the tunnel was clear. This gentleman, having just seen train number one storm past his box, replied that it was.

So our signalman duly sent train number three into the tunnel. Unfortunately the driver of train number two had seen the red flag. He had stopped his train, a procedure which took some time in those days. And then he started reversing back towards the tunnel entrance.

The resulting collision inside the tunnel caused 300 casualties. As generally happened with coal-burning engines and wooden carriages the wreckage caught fire. Rather surprisingly only 23 people died but the railways were in their infancy – in its day this was the worst accident ever.

The accident achieved instant fame because it was the inspiration for a popular ghost story by Charles Dickens, “The Signalman”. The tunnel is still rumoured to be haunted.

More seriously, in consequence of the crash the time-interval system was rapidly abandoned, and replaced by what was known as the “absolute block” system. Under this the track is divided into sections called “blocks” and the signalling system is set up so that only one train is ever allowed into a block at a time.

Of course this did not prevent all accidents, or even all collisions between trains running on the same track. Human beings can be very ingenious, or very careless.

Times have changed, signal boxes have disappeared, equipment has become more sophisticated and knowledgable. But still the block system has been a fundamental feature of safe railway operation for some 150 years.

So I was a little disturbed to read, after the latest MTR incident, that the corporation was testing some software which would abandon this fundamental principle, and allow the trains to chase each other round the network, saved from disaster only by an omniscient computer.

I understand that this is a way of increasing the capacity of the system, but the latest accident was on what is known as a scissors crossing. Most of the time an MTR train is following another MTR train and has another following behind it. The worst likely problem is that one driver will have to brake sharply to avoid his predecessor.

A scissors crossing has more exciting possibilities, because it is a junction where trains can go in one direction or the other but not both. You can, as it were, have a train going Route A-to-Route B or a train going Route B-to-Route A. If two trains attempt this simultaneously they will collide.

Unfortunately a network like the MTR needs a lot of these. If a train arrives at the end of the line in, say, Kennedy Town driving on the left it cannot simply go back the way it came. It needs to switch to driving on its new left. This can be done in a number of different ways but the easiest and cheapest is to have a scissors crossing just outside the station so that trains can go from the in-bound track to the out-bound one either before or after visiting the station.

Clearly this is a problem from a signalling point of view, because this gives us eight possible routes through the resulting junction (four in each direction) of which two pairs do not conflict with each other and four involve a possible collision.

It would, I suppose, be surprising if we could not find a computer somewhere capable of managing this tricky situation. But because of the consequences of error, it will have to be extremely reliable, which rules out any of the computers of my acquaintance.

One wonders why they did not avoid this complexity by separating the cross-overs. The scissors looks good on a model but it is really just two cross-overs super-imposed. The left-to-right one doesn’t have to be in the same place as the right-to-left one. Perhaps that would be more expensive.

Well I suppose they know what they are doing. It is nice to hear that the MTR is trying to improve things. You have to wonder, though, if this is a good time to introduce a spiffy new system when they seem to be having so much trouble operating the present one.



It is not often that a government press event has me rolling on the floor laughing. So I would like to thank Secretary for Development Michael Wong for his priceless performance on the Lantau Vision thing.
Reclamation for the first new island, he said, would begin in 2025. The first residents “may” move in by 2032. That allows seven years for the lot: the whole transition from placid patch of sea to completed public housing estate.
I am reminded of the United States Senator who greeted a particularly rosy official forecast by asking if he was expected to believe in the tooth fairy as well.
Let us look at our government’s record as a user of a large piece of reclaimed land. In 1998 the Kai Tak airport closed, leaving some 300 hectares free for new uses. If Mr Wong had been in charge the first tenants “might” have been moving into the resultant new housing in 2005. He wasn’t.
In fact, so far, two public housing estates have materialised. In both, according to the government website, the first tenants moved in in 2013. That’s 15 years after the government inherited a piece of land already reclaimed.
The rest of the Kai Tak site contains two completed projects – a new office block for the Trade and Industry people and the famous Cruise Ship Terminal. These take up very little of the space, of course. The rest is at various stages in the progression from “temporary” outdoor par park through building site to completed project.
The new Kai Tak MTR station looks almost finished from a distance. As it is completely surrounded by construction deserts of various kinds I suppose the corporation must regard not having to operate it yet as the sunny side of the delays to the Shatin to Central link.
In the light of the lamentable performance on the Kai Tak site it appears that even if the Lantau Vision reclamation starts in 2025 the first residents might move in about … oh … 2040? This is a very long-range project. Do we detect a hint of hubris in the assumption that the government has the faintest idea what Hong Kong, or indeed the world, will be like by then?
I notice also that roads will be installed by the time the residents move in – so thoughtful! – but the railways “might not run until three or five years later”. Come, Sir, do not be so constipated in your imaginings. If the railways follow recent precedents they might not run until ten years later, if at all.
I fear the government is going to repeat the mistake made in turn in Shatin, Tsing Yi, Cheung Kwan O, and Tin Shui Wai at different times. In each case residents were moved in when the only public amenity was one of those bus stops KMB makes by sticking a pole in a recycled wheel. Epic tales of misery and tedium ensued.
There will be roads. Will there be markets, parks, teahouses, malls, cinemas, a Town Hall, even perhaps the odd dai pai dong? Or will all these things have to wait while the new estate is filled with public housing applicants who cannot refuse an offer without losing their place in the queue?
Well I still think the whole thing will be ripe for cancellation at some future date “in the light of changing circumstances”. After all the price has already zoomed from “about $500 billion”, (nameless source explaining the budget) to $624 billion (Mr Wong’s latest estimate). If it eventually reaches $1 trillion (educated guess from Chu Hoi-dick) it will have done no worse than the Express Rail did, though on a larger scale.
But we are surely not that stupid. It’s not the Lantau Vision. It’s the Lantau Mirage, shimmering in the distance as we slog through the desert. Don’t drink too much of your water.