Airport rising out of the sea

CHEP LAP KOK is probably the world's biggest building site. The area for Hong Kong's new airport already teems with 8,000 workers - a population that will rise to 20,000 within the next few months, writes Patrick Hosking.

The airport's control tower has been erected, the skeleton of the terminal building is taking shape, and the path of the runway is already discernible amid all the dust and the rubble.

Parts of the site are a sea of cranes.

It is all a far cry from 1992 when work began, slicing the top off a 302-hectare rocky outcrop in the South China Sea to create a reclaimed 1,248-hectare platform.

Rubble was shifted at the rate of 10 tonnes a second for more than three years to create the artificial island.

A key obstacle to the pounds 13bn project was removed last July when, after six years of wrangling, the Chinese and British governments agreed on the financing.

AMEC, BICC-owned Balfour Beatty, Tarmac and Costain are among the British companies working on the project. GEC and ICL are supplying the flight information system and the data cabling system respectively.

However, the most striking structure on the island is not the airport itself, but the mighty Tsing Ma suspension bridge which connects the airport to the mainland side of Hong Kong.

Last month, the final 1,000-tonne deck section was being winched into place. The steel superstructure was supplied by Trafalgar House.

The airport, which will replace the existing over-stretched airport, Kai Tak, is due to open for business in 1998.