Four years ago former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that the local government was examining ways to develop the waters around Peng Chau and Hei Ling Chau into an East Lantau Metropolis. The city’s current Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, is keeping the ball rolling, dubbing the scheme the Lantau Tomorrow Vision. Once 1,700 hectares is reclaimed from the sea, Lam is promising that the area could house up to 1.1 million people, serving not only as a residential hub but as Hong Kong’s third central business district.
Hong Kong desperately needs more housing but there has been a fierce howl of protest centring on the project’s possible impact on the environment. “The reclamation will cause catastrophic damage to the ecological system of Hong Kong,” claims Eddie Tse, founder of the Save Lantau Alliance, a local civil body campaigning against the government’s reclamation plan.
Given the project’s massive cost – an estimated $500 billion – there are simple financial reasons for questioning the plan’s worth. However, advocates of the scheme, like legislative councillor Holden Chow, say ‘the estimated costs are still vague’ and caution against scaremongering. “I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the project will eventually cost $500 billion,” Chow tells us. “By the time the government submits its final proposal to the Legislative Council, they will have to clarify the cost and provide us with safeguards to manage the expense and avoid delays.”
Legislative councillor Gary Fan believes there are simpler alternatives available. “There’s at least 1,000 hectares of available land that can be used,” he says, “including brownfield sites, sites with private recreational leases and approximately 1,000 hectares of farmland in the New Territories whose lease will have expired by 2047.”
With land reclamation not expected to begin until 2025, these arguments are likely to rage for some time. With Hong Kong urgently needing to tackle its shortage of habitable land, here’s hoping that the government manages to find a compromise acceptable to both sides of the debate. Gigi Wong