Ma On Shan

United fronts fight seaside reclamation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am


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Residents across the city are fighting the government's ambitious waterfront reclamation plans, which they say would damage the coastline and worsen traffic.

A list of 25 proposed sites for reclamation to boost the land available for housing development was released for public consultation last month by the government.

But in Pok Fu Lam, Sandy Bay, and Ma On Shan, near a popular natural pebble beach in Wu Kai Sha, both on the reclamation list, locals are organising their resistance.

Residents including University of Hong Kong staff living in upmarket flats in Pok Fu Lam have united to commission a professional environmental impact study on how development on reclaimed land would affect the area, while across the city, middle-class residents in Ma On Shan have formed an alliance to protect the beach in Wu Kai Sha.

Despite their vested interests, residents upset by the proposal said they are opposing the encroachment for a greater cause.

Peter Cunich, a history professor at HKU and chairman of the Pok Fu Lam Residents' Alliance, said: 'We have many community services here and all require a clean, quiet and a less congested environment.'

Those services included three schools, three hospitals, some senior citizen community halls and the MacLehose Medical Rehabilitation Centre.

Three of the six senior staff quarters at HKU, Pine Court, Rodrigues Court and Tam Towers, are on Sha Wan Drive, which Cunich said had become a traffic bottleneck since Cyberport opened in 2002.

The residents' alliance, which fears development on reclaimed land at Sandy Bay would worsen the area's traffic and environment, plans to submit the results of the environmental impact study to the government. A resident of Pok Fu Lam's Scenic Villas, who declined to be named, said cost should not be the dominant factor in the government's decision on the issue.

The Civil Engineering and Development Department has said the city needs more land for housing and diverse economic development, and reclamation should not be seen as the last resort for solving these problems. It also released data suggesting that there was not much rural land available and the cost of developing it was higher than reclamation as it frequently involved land resumption, which often meant compensation for, and relocation of, affected residents.

But a Southern district councillor, Paul Zimmerman, said the existing road network in Pok Fu Lam could not support any extra traffic.

'People heading home from Central and Causeway Bay in the evening have to wait for 30 to 45 minutes to get on a bus or minibus as the public vehicles are all stuck in Pok Fu Lam,' Zimmerman said.

Although the Transport and Housing Bureau could impose a moratorium on new developments in Pok Fu Lam, the Chief Executive in Council could partially lift a moratorium if it saw an overriding public need, as was the case with the Cyberport technology hub.

Across the city in Ma On Shan, people living close to Wu Kai Sha are concerned that their local beach will be destroyed.

Ada Lo Tai-suen, a social worker in Ma On Shan and a member of a residents' group opposed to the reclamation, said the pebble beach at the end of the Ma On Shan promenade was a popular open space for local residents and those from farther afield.

'Despite the lack of facilities, hundreds of people come here to swim early in the morning on hot days,' she said. 'Why should the government deprive them of free leisure space?'

Ng Mee-kam, an urban planning professor at Chinese University, accused the government of 'putting the cart before the horse' by not having a clear reason for the reclamation. She said: 'How can we reclaim land without formulating a clear strategy for our economy?'

Ng said that land reclaimed in West Kowloon was originally destined for public housing but was filled with luxury flats.

The government says Hong Kong needs another 1,500 hectares of land to support projected population growth of 1.8 million by 2039. But many critics say the projections are unreliable without an official population policy.

The public consultation on reclamation will continue until the end of this month.