Victory for opponents of island superjail

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 12:00am

Facing stiff opposition, Security Bureau shelves proposal for Hei Ling Chau

The superjail project proposed for Hei Ling Chau has been shelved in the face of fierce opposition, the Security Bureau announced yesterday.

The bureau will explore other options, including development of some existing penal sites, to ease prison overcrowding.

The backdown was hailed as a victory by green groups and Lantau Island residents, who had planned a massive boat rally on Sunday to oppose the plan.

The bureau said the first stage of consultation on the project - which would have involved an 80-hectare reclamation and building a bridge to nearby Lantau - had drawn objections and suggestions that an alternative site be sought.

'In the light of these views, we consider it prudent to shelve the project at this stage and try again to explore other options. Therefore, at this point, we will not proceed with stage two of the feasibility study,' the bureau said.

The bureau said it would consider 'maximising the redevelopment potential' of existing penal sites to house more prisoners. The Lo Wu Correctional Institution, with a capacity for 182 inmates, might be redeveloped to provide an additional capacity of 800.

The first stage of the Hei Ling Chau study, which cost $7 million, included a technical and sustainability assessment on site formation and infrastructure.

Before shelving the plan, the bureau had promised to seek the Legislative Council's approval before starting the second, more detailed phase which would have cost $40 million.

The island had been chosen over another shortlisted site at Kong Nga Po, near the border, which the bureau said had to be reserved for development.

Bob Bunker, a spokesman for the Living Island Movement, a group that has opposed the Hei Ling Chau superjail plan, said they welcomed the decision.

'The government should be congratulated. It has shown maturity in decision-making and can and will listen to alternatives,' he said.

'It is a very positive sign. Obviously, in many planning exercises where a situation changes or a new situation comes up, instead of continuing with the original idea, they should re-evaluate the whole thing.'

Mr Bunker said his group would still proceed with its scheduled boat rally on Sunday. He said they would look forward to working with the government in future planning for the island, which already is home to a jail and drug addiction treatment centre.

Clive Noffke, a spokesman for Green Lantau Association, said he was surprised but 'absolutely delighted' by the decision. He suggested that it would be easier for the government to look for alternatives by splitting the superjail into clusters.