Hong Kong’s former chief executive, C.Y. Leung, now a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an important political advisory body, said the development of the broader region could be a significant driver of growth and relieve stress on the core market for new construction.

“We want to facilitate the easier flow of human resources, goods, capital,and information,” said Leung, who was founding chairman of ULI Asia Pacific. The plan is also to “avoid duplication of investment and effort,” which means that Hong Kong remains the location of choice for regional headquarters.

The Greater Bay Area—also referred to in the past as the Greater Pearl River Delta—has a population of 67 million and a gross domestic product (GDP)of US$13 trillion. New transport links including roads, bridges, tunnels, and railways will bring those 67 million people within 90 minutes’ travel of Hong Kong.

Leung said that linking Hong Kong with the nine major cities in Guangdong and Macau would require “imagination,” since the principal of “one country, two systems,” under which Hong Kong will maintain its legal and financial systems until 2047 while being part of China, makes it harder to integrate. For example, while Hong Kong citizens live and work in China, mainlanders need a permit to do so in Hong Kong.

He argued that the reform impact of the region’s integration would be even greater than the infrastructure impact. The infrastructure impact, from projects such as the Hong Kong–Macau–Zhuhai Bridge, “will allow physical things that were not previously possible,” he said, such as driving directly from Hong Kong to Zhuhai.

“The reform impact means things previously not allowed will be possible,” he said. Leung framed the Greater Bay Area initiative in the context of China’s opening up, which began almost 40 years ago. “The more China opens up to Hong Kong, the more reforms [will occur],” he said. “Cities in Guangdong will take a leaf out of Hong Kong’s book.”

For Hong Kong residents, he said, the obvious advantage of the new infrastructure links to Guangdong was that they brought Hong Kong closer to areas where land was much cheaper—one seventh the price in some areas in the Western Pearl River Delta. “Already,retirees are choosing to sell up in Hong Kong and live on the mainland,” he said.

Leung added that he was involved in discussions over building elderly care facilities for Hongkongers on the mainland, where they could have better and more spacious accommodations. There is also more room to build schools, and some private groups are doing so, he added. “Don’t just fix your eyes on GDP growth and economic benefits,” he said.

Fellow speaker Vincent Lo, chairman of Shui On Group, said the integration of the Greater Bay Area offers a great opportunity for people in Hong Kong to live within commuting distance but in much cheaper homes. “We should be looking to build satellite towns,” he said. “There is so much potential for Hong Kong people.”

In her address earlier in the day, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam twice mentioned the Greater Bay Area integration in the context of a potential solution to Hong Kong’s housing problems.

A number of audience members questioned whether the 11 different cities in the delta would be able to cooperate well enough to drive the project forward, but both Lo and Leung said the project had support from the highest levels of China’s government, which would ensure success. Leung said the “centrist central government” was “China’s systemic advantage” in making big projects work.