Tourism chief's backing for 'superjail' shocks residents' group

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2003, 12:00am

Critics say the Hei Ling Chau site should be targeted as a 'green' drawcard

A tourism chief's support for a $12 billion 'superjail' to be built on Hei Ling Chau has shocked opponents who had hoped for support from the tourism sector to stop the development.

The Living Islands Movement, a residents' group formed three weeks ago, has called for a $7 million feasibility study approved by Legco's Finance Committee on Friday to take into account the island's value as a potential tourism destination.

But the suggestion has been shrugged off by Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board and a member of Legco's security panel and Finance Committee, where she has been vocal in her support for the project.

'When we look at land use in Hong Kong we have to look at the entire picture. No doubt Hei Ling Chau would have been quite a good choice for tourism, but there are other sites as well. We're talking about competing land uses,' she said yesterday.

The facility on Hei Ling Chau would house about 7,000 prisoners, replacing eight prisons.

Tom Masterson, a spokesman for the Living Islands Movement, said the group was 'very disappointed' that Mrs Chow had voted for the project without considering the tourism potential of Hei Ling Chau.

The island has been identified by a University of Hong Kong study as one of only 70 ecological hot-spots in Hong Kong.

Another member of the residents' group, Neil McLaughlin, said: '[Mrs Chow] was quite strident in her support for the proposal, and it was notable that at no point was any reference made to the impact on tourism.

'If the government is only going to look at the potential for building a prison at Hei Ling Chau, then quite apart form the environmental degradation of such a project, they are failing to capitalise on a natural asset that could be a tourism attraction in its own right.'

Sannie Chan Lit-fong, chairwoman of the Green Peng Chau Association, was also disappointed at the lack of support for developing the island and neighbouring Peng Chau's tourism potential.

'But I am not surprised, since [Mrs Chow] is a member of the security panel. I also talked to members and staff of the Tourism Board and when I spoke about eco-tourism they didn't really pay attention,' she said.

Mrs Chow, meanwhile, also dashed residents' hopes that the first stage of the study would engage the public in the process or seek alternative sites for the prison.

'I think [public consultation] will come at the end of the consultancy study,' she said, adding that a debate in the Legislative Council on finding the right location for the prison had gone on 'quite long enough'.

'I really don't think this first study is about a choice of land use, but it is a first step towards construction of the prison, to see what the effect will be on the environment and to put forward a more structured plan.'

A preliminary study, costing $7 million, is expected to focus on land use and planning issues.

This will be followed by a $40 million engineering and design study, funding for which hinges on the outcome of the first study and a second round of voting in Legco.

James To Kun-sun, a legislator and Finance Committee member, said yesterday the first study would determine whether Hei Ling Chau was a suitable location. 'My understanding is that this study will look only at Hei Ling Chau and not investigate other sites. The study will put forward options to the government and on the basis of the information we receive we will decide if further research can be done, or if other sites should be considered.'

The chairman of the Finance Committee, Philip Wong Yu-hong, refused to speak to the Post to clarify the committee's decision.