Ambitious plans for construction in north Lantau bring out voices of dissent

Plans for extensive construction in north Lantau to exploit the Zhuhai-Macau link is stirring dissent among residents and conservationists, writes Elaine Yau

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 12:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 12:03am

The first phase of Tung Chung new town opened in late 1997, but it was 13 years before basic facilities such as a public library and sports centre were built for residents. So you might think Lam Yin-ying would welcome plans to further develop the township, created to accommodate people working at  Chek Lap Kok airport in north Lantau.

But that’s not the case. Lam, a packing worker who lives in  Yat Tung Estate with her three children, fears the proposal will lead to rent increases that will drive out neighbourhood shops serving residents in favour of retailers targeting mainland visitors. “The Yat Tung mall is still made up of neighbourhood shops, but I am afraid it will become a centre for mainland shoppers like  Fu Tung estate plaza.”

We just want sustainable development which strikes a balance between conservation and economic growth

The nearby plaza, connected by a footbridge to  Tung Chung MTR station and  Citygate Outlets, is now primarily a cluster of cosmetic shops and pharmacies selling milk powder, and its furniture store has been replaced by an expensive  beauty parlour, Lam says.

“We seldom leave the township as transport is very expensive, so for leisure activities I bring my children to  Tung Chung River. The river will be affected by reclamation. Where can they play in future?”

Lam is among many residents in north Lantau alarmed by the government’s ambitious proposal to turn the area into a regional transport and economic hub, scrapping a 2007 concept plan put forward under then financial secretary  Henry Tang Ying-yen.

The extension plan includes the  construction of a 130-hectare  island with malls and hotels east of Chek Lap Kok which would serve as the border checkpoint for the  Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau  bridge,  as well as a third runway at the airport. Other key components include major reclamation work at Sunny Bay (to turn the site into “an entertainment and business node”);  at Siu Ho Wan (up to 150 hectares); at Tung Chung east  (120 hectares) and Tung Chung west (14 hectares).

The new development is expected to increase Tung Chung’s population from the current 90,000 to about 200,000.

A  Development Bureau spokesman says it has long been the government’s aim to turn Tung Chung into a comprehensively planned new town, and its proposals would provide more job opportunities and additional land for public facilities.

“The proposed extension areas to the east and west of the existing Tung Chung new town help address residents’ calls for more community, transport and other infrastructure facilities,”  he says.

Views expressed during two phases of public consultations have generally been in favour of further development, he adds.

The spokesman points to a study, completed in July 2013, which proposed  enhanced facilities such as railway stations at Tung Chung east and west, and a commercial hub in  the east with  waterfront retail areas, a sports ground, hotels, malls and a marina. The additional developments would  “benefit existing and new residents of Tung Chung new town alike”.

However,  Brandon Cheung Chun-ming of the Tung Chung Community Development Alliance isn’t buying the idea, particularly as their survey of 240 residents showed that most objected to the plans.

“Only 30 per cent  support it,” he says. “Tung Chung is a young town with lots of families with young children. There should be more part-time jobs for mothers. In future, there will only be full-time retail and hotel jobs. We are afraid that we will become the next  Sheung Shui – a backyard of the mainland.”

The proposed extension has put paid to plans by  Prajna Dhyana Temple to establish an organic farm and retreat for elderly Buddhists. Operators of the temple, located 10 minutes’ drive from Tung Chung MTR station, began preparations in 2012 but it all came to an abrupt halt last year.

“We set up a foundation to raise donations for expansion and were in talks with developers who owned surrounding land. But after [a phase II study] was revealed, developers refused to sell and donations stopped coming in,” says Abbot Sik Chuan-bo.

Responding to environmental concerns over reclamation at the Tung Chung estuary, the phase II study calls for construction of housing at a plot ratio of five in areas surrounding the temple.

“It means we will be surrounded by 30 to 40-storey blocks. Not only will our tranquility be affected, future residents will also be disturbed by our bell ringing at 4am and frequent chanting,” the abbot adds.

  Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of the  Save Lantau Alliance, criticises the CY Leung administration for abandoning the concept plan released in 2007, and  starting anew in January with the setting up of the   Lantau Development Advisory Committee with 19 private sector appointees.

“Many committee members have real estate backgrounds, and can benefit from the development. The whole proposal now seems to serve mainland interests,” says Tse, a long-time Tai O resident.

Records show that 10 appointees either work for or hold shares in companies with business interests in Lantau. For example, relatives of  Randy Yu Hon-kwan, a son-in-law of  Heung Yee Kuk chief  Lau Wong-fat, hold considerable assets on the island, including 29 plots of land in Tung Chung (see box).

Dismissing conflict of interest claims, the Development Bureau spokesman says the committee “is not invested with any decision-making power”.
The panel is set up simply to give views on Lantau development, and members have agreed to a declaration of interest system that is “more stringent” than for similar advisory committees, he says.

But several members have seized the chance amid pressing housing shortages to call for building into country parks, and their supercilious attitude has only deepened public antipathy to expansion  plans. Asked where Hongkongers could go to relieve the pressures of city life if the parks were developed,  Kaizer Lau Ping-cheung, a director at  Shui On Land, told a radio show that they were free to travel to the mainland.

Eric Kwok Ping, an indigenous Pui O resident and chairman of  Eco-Environment Conservation and Education Association, sees the extension plan as blatant collusion between government and business.

“What if mainland visitors stop coming? All the projects will become white elephants.”

Such a concern is why Chan Tung-ngok, vice-chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals, believes Hong Kong should move quickly to seize the opportunity that the Zhuhai-Macau bridge link presents.

“If there are insufficient facilities in Lantau to cater to tourists after they leave the airport, they will head for Macau, Zhuhai and Hengqin through the bridge,” he says, noting that new theme parks and hotels are opening soon in those cities.

Tung Chung residents’ worries about being swamped seem to be unfounded as visitors travelling along the bridge will first reach the artificial island’s commercial hub, which should also offer more job options.

But rather than focus the extensions at Tung Chung, Chan, a surveyor, argues a new town, that could accommodate 500,000 people, could be built at Sunny Bay where there are fewer ecological considerations.

In an ironic twist, the  Kwok clan of Pak Mong is furious that officials have banned development in the area to avoid adverse impact to water quality and the area around Tai Ho River, which is now deemed a site of special scientific interest.

They share ownership of land at Pak Mong and sold about two thirds for HK$400 per square foot to  Sun Hung Kai Properties in 1997, says clan elder  Kwok Shue-yung, 75. 

Prices have since risen to HK$880 per sq ft, but by freezing development around Tai Ho, the villagers say they are losing out and are demanding compensation. The villagers should have been consulted in the decision, Kwok says.

Pak Mong illustrates a paradox of development and conservation,  association chairman Kwok says.

“People who own land in Lantau welcome speedy development as they can profit from it. All the hype over the Lantau extension has made indigenous villagers eager to sell their land.  We don’t blindly object to development. We just want sustainable development which strikes a balance between conservation and economic growth.”

Business interests declared by the 10 non-official members of the Lantau Development Advisory Committee

Chau Chuen-heung: owner or partner in two companies with Lantau-related business

Marvin Cheung Kin-tung: paid directorships in five companies with business in Lantau or adjacent islands/areas

Ivan Chu Kwok-leung: director of John Swire & Sons which owns properties and developments in Lantau; director of Swire Pacific which holds indirect interests in Citygate Outlets; director of Cathay Pacific Airways which indirectly controls CX City and Headland Hotel

Allen Ha Wing-on: CEO and director of AsiaWorld-Expo Management, which has business in Lantau

Peter Lam Kin-ngok: financial interests in International Development and Services, which has business interests in Lantau

Andrew Lam Siu-lo: owner or partner in six companies which have Lantau-related business; co-owns two flats in Tung Chung Lau Ping-cheung: development director of Shui On Land, which has business in Lantau, Ping Chau and Cheung Chau

Yiu Si-wing: director at China Travel Service which operates cross-border buses between mainland and the airport

Randy Yu Hon-kwan: general manager of Sino Land, which has residential developments in Mui Wo and Cheung Sha; Yu and his mother own three homes in Tai O; his in-laws own 29 plots of land in Tung Chung and four in Yi O

Billy Lam Chung-lun: director of BC Consultancy Services whose clients include Cathay Pacific Source: Secretary of the Lantau Development Advisory Committee