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ICE president raises the institution’s profile in Hong Kong and China

31 May 2023

During his 10-day visit, Keith Howells met with members, fellows, government officials, and many others.

ICE president raises the institution’s profile in Hong Kong and China
While the schedule was tight, the ICE president managed to pack in a lot during his visit.

Last week, accompanied by Sean Harris, ICE director of membership, I visited Hong Kong to meet with members and government officials, present certificates to recently chartered members, and give my presidential address to fellows, members, and guests.

Hong Kong has over 7,800 members and is, by far, the ICE’s largest international region.

This was the first physical presidential visit to the region since the pandemic and we were warmly welcomed by everyone we met.

Rapid growth in Hong Kong

We started with a meeting with Ricky Lau, the Permanent Secretary for the Development (Works) Bureau, who has also taken on the role of the ICE’s representative in the region.

We discussed the planned rapid growth in infrastructure spend in Hong Kong (over HK$ 300bn per year for the next decade), and the importance of making this as sustainable and low carbon as possible.

We highlighted the recent publication of the PAS 2080 update.

Ricky emphasised that one of the issues the territory is facing is a huge shortage of engineering professionals and that they are looking to attract both local and international talent to the profession.

A look at emissions

We also visited Dr Samuel Choi, director of environmental protection, and CF Wong, Commissioner for climate change and discussed how Hong Kong was planning to reduce its carbon emissions over the coming years.

Hong Kong has reduced emissions by about 20% since their peak in 2014, largely by generating electricity with natural gas rather than coal.

But, the next steps will be more challenging and will probably rely on buying nuclear power from China while reducing demand through efficiency measures.

Sharing best practice

We had lunch with the British Chamber of Commerce, chaired by Dr Anne Kerr of Mott MacDonald, where I gave a talk on sharing best practices for infrastructure delivery.

This touched on:

  • the importance of maintaining life-long competence to keep up to date with a rapidly changing industry;
  • the need to address the climate emergency and decarbonise our industry;
  • the drive to maximise the use of digital technologies in design; and
  • delivery focusing on outcomes, rather than outputs, underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals.

Learning about projects

Central Kowloon Route relief road

We visited the site of the Central Kowloon Route relief road, a Highways Department project where an Arup and Mott MacDonald joint venture leads the consultancy aspects.

This comprises a 4.7km dual three lane carriageway in a cut and cover tunnel through a highly congested area of the city.

It has the aim of reducing travel times from 30+mins to 5 mins, thus reducing congestion and carbon and air pollution.

Because of its location, the project is extremely challenging. It passes close to many high-rise buildings and the interchanges with the existing road systems at each end are very complicated.

Kai Tak sports park

Later on, we visited the 28ha Kai Tak sports park – a 50,000 seater stadium together with a large multi-purpose sports hall, community soccer pitches and tennis courts, as well as a sprinkling of retail venues and hotels.

The complex is being built under a design-build-and-operate (DBO) contract with approximately 20 years of operation.

It’s making extensive use of modular off-site construction techniques to reduce programme cost and enhance safety.

Touching base

We met with Carl Devlin, capital works director for the Mass Transit Rail (MTR) Corporation, to discuss sustainable transport and MTR’s expansion plans.

With 90% of journeys made on public transport, Hong Kong is doing very well and is rated the top city in the world for sustainable transport.

We also visited Gammon’s digital hub to see how one of Hong Kong’s leading contractors is using BIM and data management to improve efficiency and productivity.

We dropped into the ICE office to touch base with the local team, led by Wan Kai Hong.

Net Zero Heroes

Aecom hosted a symposium on becoming ‘Net Zero Heroes’, where I gave the opening address, followed by CF Wong and Aecom’s Dr Thomas Tsang on the issues facing Hong Kong.

We had contributions (on Zoom) from the UK, with Kat Ibbotson talking about whole life carbon measurement and Chris Landsburgh presenting a case study on decarbonisation in the rail sector.

There were contributions from a local professor of architecture on net zero buildings, and on reducing carbon in road construction from New Zealand.

With nearly 800 people online we were hopefully able to influence regional thinking!

The Zero Carbon Park

We followed this with a visit to the Construction Industry Council’s Zero Carbon Park, which showcases a range of solutions to improve sustainability and reduce carbon in the built environment.

This includes modular integrated construction (MiC), BIM-based visualisation, solar panels, water saving devices, use of materials such as bamboo, intelligent lighting, etc.

The presidential address

The day concluded with the president’s address and reception which was well attended by fellows, members and senior government officials.

Two notable ‘giants’ of the HK industry also attended – James Blake, former Secretary for Works and still working at 89 as project reviewer of the Kai Tak Sports Park, and Sir Gordon Wu (87), the founder of Hopewell Holdings, a major developer of buildings and infrastructure in Hong Kong and China.

Catching up with ICE HKA and HKIE

The following day, we had a breakfast meeting with the members of the ICE Hong Kong Association (HKA) Committee, chaired by Louis Wong.

Then, we met with the Hong Kong Institute of Engineering (HKIE), which is the membership organisation for all engineering disciplines in Hong Kong, and with whom we have a mutual recognition agreement.

We discussed how, in the UK, the ICE is building awareness of engineering in schools as well as how we’re aiming to recruit and develop more technicians.

HKIE is keen to address the problems of an aging workforce and a declining interest in engineering among young people in Hong Kong.

The certificate presentation ceremony in the afternoon saw over 450 guests hosted at the HK Convention and Exhibition Centre where I presented certificates to 140 newly chartered engineers.

Visiting the University of Hong Kong

The day concluded with a tour of engineering research centers and laboratories of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), followed by dinner in the Senior Common Room, hosted by Professor Wei Pan, acting executive vice-president (administration and finance) of HKU.

A big thank you to Wan Kai Hong and his team for making the arrangements for a very well organised programme of meetings and visits.

Arriving in Beijing

We travelled to Beijing over the weekend, principally to meet with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) which has sponsored the ICE’s activities in China for several years and to thank them for their continuing support.

We also met with CHEC’s parent company, CCCC, the world’s third largest construction company.

We met with the China Civil Engineering Society - a very similar organisation to the ICE in China in terms of qualifications, publications, research, and so on.

We also caught up with the China Hydraulic Engineering Society which conducts similar activities in the water sector and the China Water Transport Construction Association (CWTCA), whose main focus is ports.

Exchanging knowledge

As a foreign, non-governmental organisation, the ICE isn’t permitted to promote membership in China or remit fees.

So, our discussions focused on knowledge exchange, particularly in terms of tackling the climate emergency and promoting sustainability given that we have much to learn from each other.

However, there’s an appetite within CHEC and CCCC for their staff to become professionally qualified members of the ICE as they find it a useful qualification to have when working for overseas clients.

With one of the largest construction industries in the world, there’s considerable scope to share knowledge and best practice with China.

We agreed we would look for ways to co-operate in this regard.

Thank you to Holly Guo and Mr Qiao for their support during this visit, which was intended to restart activities in China following a hiatus lasting several years, mainly due to the pandemic.

While the schedule was tight, we managed to pack in a lot during our 10-day visit which helped to consolidate our presence in Hong Kong, as well as raise our profile in China.

  • Keith Howells, president 2022/23 at Institution of Civil Engineers