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An inspiring visit to Hong Kong

13 January 2020

ICE President Paul Sheffield saw in the early part of 2020 with a visit to Hong Kong - an opportunity to witness the huge enthusiasm that HKSAR's engineering, infrastructure and construction teams give to the ICE.

An inspiring visit to Hong Kong

A happy new year to all ICE members. I spent the start of 2020 visiting Hong Kong where we have a strong and committed ICE committee who have developed really strong business and Government links since its establishment in 1999 - we have over 7300 members.

In what was a busy week, I attended a series of technical seminars and site visits, attended the annual Certificate Presentation ceremony and conducted meetings with the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers and the Innovation and Technology Bureau. I also had the opportunity to visit the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park in Sha Tin and see at first hand the winner of the “People’s Choice Award” for 2019 – the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge - a truly remarkable project and a deserved winner.

Policy work

I’ll expand on these visits shortly, but I also want to highlight the excellent policy work that is being conducted in Hong Kong. Our relationship with the Hong Kong Development Bureau (who ultimately have responsibility for all public sector led infrastructure development) is particularly strong. We have had a tradition of inviting the Permanent Secretary (who has to be FICE qualified) to become the ICE representative in Hong Kong and this has led to great reciprocal knowledge and mutual assistance over the years. We support them on sharing insights from the UK and elsewhere and have been actively supporting their Construction 2.0 agenda (offsite manufacturing) and also with Project 13. The NEC contracts have now been used on over 100 projects valued at over £6bn. This policy work has also included reciprocal visits from and to Hong Kong.

Inspirational leadership

The Innocell project - A new modular construction process being used in Sha Tin
The Innocell project - A new modular construction process being used in Sha Tin

During my visit I had several productive meetings with engineering leaders and government representatives. Ringo Yu - President of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers - took the time to introduce me to his team and explain the structure and workings of the HKIE who cover 21 different Engineering disciplines. We’ve worked closely together for many years and I’m pleased that the relationship between our teams is strong, especially now that the potential glitch with the Washington Accord (the international accreditation agreement for undergraduate professional engineering academic degrees) is now behind us. I truly believe that the next 20 years are going to see some huge changes to the infrastructure that we live with on a daily basis and we need to be “fleet of foot” in making sure that our professionals are ready to deliver on that challenge and indeed that we can adapt to the needs of infrastructure professionals of all hues.

Innovation and technology

The Hong Kong government has recognised the huge value to their long-term economic success of investing in innovation and R&D. As is often the case in Hong Kong, when they back an idea, they do it with gusto and they have set aside over HK$50bn (over £5bn) over the next 5 years or so for this purpose - together with significant tax breaks. I had the pleasure of meeting with Annie Choi – The Permanent Secretary for Innovation & Technology and she kindly talked me through the history and targets of the Bureau. As we do in Western Europe, Hong Kong is facing an ageing workforce and much of their focus with innovation is aimed at finding ways of delivering more with dwindling human resources. Modular manufacturing, robotics and 3d printing are at the forefront of their minds with demonstration projects under way.

Innocell project

I had the fortune of seeing at first hand the InnoCell project at Sha Tin where they are building a 17 storey, 500 bed “live-work” apartment building from modular units made in mainland China, due for completion at the end of March this year. This is being built at their new Science and Technology Park in Sha Tin where over the last 7 years they have built 4million sq ft of innovation space and now have 800 tech companies working there, 400 of them start-ups involving people from 22 nations. This all aligns very closely with my vision of the future - one in which we must embrace technology to become more efficient, attract a more diverse workforce and to combat some of the ageing trends within the industry. Our industry should be seen as a vibrant and forward thinking one, one that attracts that truly diverse workforce.

The People's Choice Award

Chris Wong, who led the construction for the Client of the Hong Kong to Macao bridge from Lantau towards the main tunnel section, came to London in November to collect the award as the winner of the People’s Choice Award for 2019. When he was in London I asked him to show me his project when I was visiting Hong Kong and so we had a detailed tour of the huge immigration control facilities, transport interchanges and of course the multi span bridges. We often talk about failure in our industry and probably don’t celebrate success enough. This remarkable 55-km long bridge is the longest bridge-cum-tunnel sea crossing in the world and has significantly reduced transportation costs and time between Hong Kong, Macao and the Western Pearl River Delta (PRD) region.

I am sure there are many big learning points from the project, whether in the off-site construction of the 650T roof sections for the immigration hall, environmental mitigation that was clearly a challenge, or the logistics of working over such a long and linear project. We should all be able to learn from these successes and I would hope that a technical paper will be written in due course.

Hong Kong to Macao bridge
Hong Kong to Macao bridge

An ICE Certificate Presentation ceremony was held on the first evening of my visit and over 230 Engineers were there to collect their Chartership certificates together with over 450 of their family and friends in what was a truly uplifting event - all organised by the G&S committee. At a Presidential Reception the following evening I also had the pleasure of awarding Sir Gordon Wu (Founder of Hopewell Holdings) the ICE International Medal winner 2019. Sir Gordon has a legendary reputation as a visionary civil engineer and is one of Asia’s best known entrepreneurs. He originally had a vision for the Macao bridge as long as 35 years ago.

My final meeting was with SH Lam, the Permanent Secretary for Development (Works). Mr. Lam has given huge support to the ICE during his time in office and it was nice to be able thank him personally. It makes a huge difference to us to have someone as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as Mr. Lam to act as our key representative in the country. Under his leadership, his team has embarked on a major programme to improve capability and I have offered to help with the development programme if we can make the timescales work during the early summer.

Mr. Lam’s support is indicative of the huge enthusiasm that Hong Kong’s engineering, infrastructure and construction teams give to the ICE and I hope all the project leaders I met on my visit appreciate that we will do all we can to support their teams to deliver all the projects that are in the pipeline in a professional and efficient way. I am already looking forward to my next visit.

  • Paul Sheffield, President 2019-2020 at ICE