Spare Lantau Island from more artificial tourism projects

Ian Brownlee says the north shore of our largest island cannot avoid development, but it should be planned as a high-quality living environment for the people of Hong Kong, not a home for theme parks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 12:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 12:25pm

The public consultation on the Lantau concept plan ends on April 30. Following the Hong Kong government’s recent record, nothing is likely to change in response to public input. Lantau is our biggest island and major development is already coming, with Tung Chung new town, the airport expansion and the bridge to Zhuhai and Macau. Also, there is a need for more urban development to meet local housing needs and employment. Lantau should be used for development and the logical place is along the railway and expressway which serve the north shore and the airport. So change should take place here, but the quality of the living environment that is created should be the greatest priority.

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If the aim is to put Hong Kong people’s needs first, then the plan must ensure a long-term sustainable environment to live in and grow old in. The plan should specifically protect and promote things that will make people’s lives better. Many of these do not require massive infrastructural changes, but need sensitive protection and careful enhancement.

Does Hong Kong really need large infrastructure projects on Lantau?

The north shore should not be heavily engineered. Instead, more sensitive engineering using existing expertise should reinstate the damaged ecology and provide bays, beaches and interaction through: water sports; an amazing waterfront cycle way; planting of trees; and, most importantly, space – for parks and people. Accessible recreation and a high-quality living environment should be a priority – and this requires a completely different approach to the way things are illustrated on the concept plan. Some of the right words are there but the details do not support them.

The split of Lantau into a northern development zone and southern conservation zone is appropriate

The split of Lantau into a northern development zone and southern conservation zone is logical and appropriate. But if Hong Kong people are to be put first, there are two issues which urgently need to be revisited.

The first is artificial tourism projects for external tourists. The best approach would be to better understand the large growth in local visitors to Lantau’s areas of natural beauty and peacefulness. The hiking trails of the island are well used all year and all through the week, and this is growing as people retire and can visit these areas on weekdays. This growth in appreciation of the area by Hong Kong people can be met with low-key facilities and simple accommodation in eco-lodges and village houses.

No question that Lantau Island should be developed – but we must tread carefully

If local needs are the priority, then there is no need for artificial tourism attractions for outsiders. Many of the features identified in the plan are already there in a natural state, such as the “Zen Conservation Zone” at Luk Wu. This does not need to be commercialised and ruined, as has happened at the Big Buddha site. There is no need for an extension of the cable car to Tai O – an access road from Tung Chung serving locals would be appropriate. And there is no need for a funicular railway, or a water park at Mui Wo or Pui O as there is already water there – in the sea. We don’t need an “indoor adventure park” at Sunny Bay as the whole of Lantau, if promoted carefully, is an “outdoor adventure park”. It is about subtle appreciation and sensitive use, not artificial labelling and marketing.

We don’t need more tourism and unlimited development

The second issue is the devastation that will take place in the sea, with massive reclamation proposed for an East Lantau Metropolis intended to become our third central business district. The reclamation proposed for that, and for other areas along the north Lantau coast, will have a dramatic effect. The effect on biodiversity and marine activity seem to be seen as insignificant considerations.

While the East Lantau Metropolis is a long-term proposal, it is not adequately supported by sound analysis of need and alternatives. It is such a massive idea that it should be treated separately from Lantau. By lumping it into this consultation, it will inevitably be considered as accepted and work will push ahead.

There will come a time when Hong Kong people look at what is happening and say “enough is enough – Hong Kong is ‘full’ and we want only things which are good for us”. The Lantau plan brings that date a lot closer. We don’t need more tourism and unlimited development. Living in a high-quality environment with a well-balanced life is a higher priority.

Ian Brownlee is the managing director of Masterplan Limited and has worked on many projects on Lantau