• Thu
  • Aug 28, 2014
  • Updated: 12:22pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Lamma quarry site could be an environmental Eden

Andy Cornish and Jo Wilson argue that by approving a housing development for the Lamma quarry site, the government would be passing up a great environmental opportunity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 May, 2013, 3:07am

The first 10 months of the new administration has seen the Environment Bureau lay out more ambitious plans to tackle a swathe of environmental issues than we've seen in the previous five years, and an unprecedented level of collaboration with other bureaus on issues including air pollution and marine litter.

We have a long way to go before the new initiatives bite, as the shocking air pollution demonstrates, but Hong Kong has the expertise and resources to become Asia's greenest city within a decade. Nothing less should be our goal.

Adding housing to every available site...is no way to go about things strategically

However, society can only be expected to respond en masse and get behind the policies if change is palpable, and for that we need physical structures that demonstrate that change is real, and here to stay. Cutting-edge office buildings equipped with futuristic turbines, green facades and other visible innovations in the heart of our commercial districts would be one example.

Changing human behaviour is notoriously difficult, but as adults we will also need to adjust to new realities of constrained natural resources, and other limits to our development. Life has become so complex that adults will need education too. The world simply doesn't have the luxury of time to wait until our enlightened youngsters become tomorrow's decision-makers.

There is an incredible opportunity to address these challenges and add real value to Hong Kong and it has been sitting right under our noses for years - at the old quarry site across from Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island. The Lamma quarry was rehabilitated in 2002 and is a 20-hectare site with a man-made lake inhabited by egrets and other wildlife.

The government is currently deciding what to do with the site and has conducted the first stage of a public consultation. Sadly, Hong Kong is in danger of missing a fabulous opportunity to create a flagship project to transform attitudes and behaviour in conjunction with the community.

Instead, three options for development have been presented for the rubber stamp - all versions of the same design featuring a mix of housing, restaurants, waterfront promenade, and a water sports facility. The unique nature of Lamma as the car-free, biodiverse "back-garden" of Hong Kong is recognised and then ignored as the development options mimic Discovery Bay, with housing for 2,800 to 7,000 people proposed.

No doubt Hong Kong has major housing issues, but adding housing to every available site, especially one with only ferry access, is no way to go about things strategically.

A far more suitable inspiration point lies further afield - at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England. This world leader in environmental education, with its distinctive biodomes, was established in an abandoned quarry in 2001, has become a "national treasure" and has won many awards.

It attracts more than a million visitors a year and has generated £1.2 billion (HK$14.3 billion) in new wealth for Cornwall since opening. Fundamentally, it seeks to connect people with nature.

To imagine the ripple effect a Lamma Eden project could generate, as the first of its kind in Asia, think about the Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai, which is much more of a niche market in scope. Successful in itself as a visitor attraction, with around 450,000 visitors annually, it was one of the first of its kind in China, and has inspired many others: there are some 298 National Wetland Parks in China, and at least 100 more at provincial level.

The opportunity to partner directly with the Eden Project is very real. The project's founder, Tim Smit, has said that not only is the Eden Project looking to spread its vision in other countries, but Hong Kong would be of great interest if it was part of a credible sustainable development plan and if resources were available.

It is clear from the consultation hearings that the public is not opposed to developing the quarry, but is concerned that the best use be made of the unique site, and of the limited options presented.

Villagers at Sok Kwu Wan understandably want better ferry services, medical services and economic opportunities. Few of the environmentalists were totally against development in the quarry, but many had serious concerns about the concrete-pouring options, the impact on the rest of the island and the quarry wildlife, not to mention the Civil Engineering and Development Department's intention and ability to execute a project with sensitivity and in tune with Lamma. A mutually beneficial solution is clear, and one that can even enhance wildlife.

The chief executive's election mani-festo stated that, "Going forward, policies should be formulated from a sustainable development perspective … We need to reinforce public education, raise the entire community's awareness of environmental protection and make concerted efforts to discharge our duty as global citizens."

The Lamma site offers the opportunity to do just that, and on a globally significant scale. Will we take advantage, or close our eyes and leave it to others?

Andy Cornish, PhD, is an independent advocate for sustainable development. Jo Wilson is the chairman of Living Lamma

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This article is now closed to comments

CShannon
It is not the Eden Project’s iconic geodesic biomes that excite, but more that is a highly creative social enterprise borne out of an audacious vision, that comes with a unique ability and know-how that stirs people’s imagination and passion for the environment. It is a story of perseverance and determination that made an environmental wonder happen and the ripple effect of inspiring so many people on the environment is unmatched. Would Hong Kong have such a determination to make one happen here? I hope so. While NGO's, schools, the government and companies are doing good things and environmental awareness is growing here - Hong Kong is still a long way off from boasting an enlightened or excited environmental mindset. We need something like the Eden Project to get us more excited, motivated, to stretch our imagination and immerse us in the possibilities of a sustainable future, rather than be disheartened or overwhelmed by the challenges. A successful Asian Eden would need an original vision that is defined by Asian ideals and rooted in creative initiatives that encourage greater ownership of environmental challenges. It is all very well suggesting the ex-Lamma quarry site – but the bottom line is money - for any site in Hong Kong. Who will pay for the construction, design, land and initial running costs and what sort of social enterprise model (profit or not for profit) could it be that would be dynamic enough to secure a strong and long lasting future in Asia?
Paradox314
Why not consider an option that would address both the need for more housing and the need to develop in an environmentally sustainable manner that would create the healthiest living environments possible? Developing a community would be an ideal solution. Cohousing communities began in Denmark in the 1960's and have spread to become a growing worldwide phenomena. It represents the cutting edge of sustainable housing development, where communities are planned and developed cooperatively by future residents with a view to developing ideal living spaces with a balance between private individual needs and communal interaction. ****www.cohousing.org/what_is_cohousing
Asynsis
As a Hong Kong person, an architect who worked on the Eden project, and as the co-discoverer of the Asynsis principle-Constructal law of optimal, sustainable design in nature and culture (please see Twitter link below), I cannot agree more.
An Eden in Hong Kong would help us raise Hong Kong's game as a sustainability hub for Asia and to wrest back the initiative from our rivals in Singapore!
Asynsis? More from less - a new design & construction optimisation method with ARUP Foresight, London, Friday May 3, 2013: ****wp.me/p1zCSP-2V via @ASYNSIS
sclouston
Why not have a Design Contest to build the next-generation green-conscious environment to be built in the Lamma site? I'm sure private groups have an interest in what gets built there - so, why not run a contest to see who can come up with the best use of that space?
Andy Cornish
Hi Jve,
With regards to your comment about 500,000 visitors, its worth bearing in mind that the government plans housing for up to 7,000 people in the old quarry. If we assume that all of those people commute off Lamma 6 days per week, that is more than 2,180,000 return trips! So the Eden idea would actually require considerably less ferries - plus people could simply not go if there was a typhoon, unlike if they lived there.
Andy
impala
Well, if that is indeed the case, that is not a particular good idea either if you ask me. Lamma now has a population of some 6,000 people, so I imagine more than doubling that would require quite some new infrastructure. Yet, the Eden II idea is worse.

From what I understand, the 7,000 people figure is the most extreme variant of three proposed redevelopment plans, with the least populous option providing housing for 'only' 2,800.

Either way, even if the more extreme option would be adopted, at least we would have houses for thousands of people, which are badly needed. It would relieve some of the pressure for development on other areas of Hong Kong. And I also understand the plans include recreational facilities for those new and existing Lamma residents, such as parks, a sports centre and a marina. If I were a Lamma resident, I'd much prefer that over having a tourist attraction that will bring hundreds of thousands more visitors to what struck me as already an over-crowded tourist area last time I was there (admittedly, a Sunday).

I am sure the Eden project has done a lot of good for Cornwall, and it remains an interesting venture, but Cornwall has a population density of 115 ppl/km2 (HK: 6,480 ppl/km2, more than 50 times higher), a lot of open space, and an economy that consists pretty much only of fishing, tourism and clotted cream. So while there is always a lesson to learn, I am afraid that there is little there that compares well with Hong Kong.
Andy Cornish
The only aspect of your argument that I can and do agree with is the impact of extra people on the rest of Lamma. Ideally - and Jo and I have advocated for this - Lamma would first be the subject of a planning study formulated with residents to come up with a long-term vision for Lamma, and a plan to deliver it, before any decisions are made on the old quarry. Development on the island is very haphazard at present.
Unfortunately, govt is proceeding at pace with quarry planning and is showing no intention of conducting such a plan. I lived on Lamma for 13 years and know that many residents would be firmly against a mini Discovery Bay on Lamma, as this is clashes badly with the character of the island as it is, and would change it forever. Oddly government thinks their designs will create a tourist attraction too, but that is another matter.
Any development plan will result in more visitors, but at least there can be a degree of control through the ferries. And having the site by the sea would allow marine environmental elements that the Cornwall site could only dream of.
An Eden type project, does have its cons like any, but at least it would be in keeping with the character of Lamma etc. Lamma is exactly the kind of unique place we should be protecting from development, not the other way round.
impala
I appreciate your responses and respect your point of view, even though in all likelihood, we will have to agree to disagree.

Every place is unique in its own way, and I don't see anything that makes Lamma so extremely special that it warrants a higher level of protection than other similar parts of Hong Kong. Lamma has some old fishing villages and beaches, which we also find in many other places. Same thing for the natural beauty of the island. It also already has an ugly power plant and receives tens if not hundreds of thousands of tourists per year. So it is hardly an unspoilt piece of paradise.

We need more housing in Hong Kong. Badly. Every (re)development should attempt to strike some balance between residential, commercial, historic and environmental interests. But I see no reason to exempt Lamma while the rest of Hong Kong urbanises further. The fact that Lamma residents like yourself are opposed to turning it into a mini-DB (really little wrong with that, I know plenty of people who live or lived there very happily) is hardly surprising: that is NIMBY activism.

Your idea is to stop residential development of Lamma by proposing an environmental tourist attraction for which there is no need, and of which the benefits to Hong Kong, unlike to Cornwall, are dubious at best. It just comes down to building something big yet non-polluting and non-disturbing that will occupy valuable land zoned for residential development. I see no merits in that.
lucifer
Stop the incentives that make hiusing a speculative sotre of value and the housing problem will be solved without new development. How about an annual property tax, which coudl be used to supplant lost stamp duty on new house construction.
johnyuan
The writers haven’t indicated that some geodesic domes must be built to preserve the existing eco-system on Lamma’s quarry which the illustration implies. Leave the quarry’s natural state alone. Nature is the best architect or engineer. CY Leung would need public’s moral support in the face of land shortage not making the quarry available for housing. The competition between people and wildlife must be debated and I hope the wildlife wins. What Hong Kong immediately can do to reduce air pollution from the abundance use of electricity in summer months is apply exterior insulation to all buildings. And make it a requirement for new construction.

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