Lamma Island

Lamma Island divided over resort plan that will double number of residents

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2014, 5:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2014, 11:31am

It's one of the most peaceful places in Hong Kong. With lush green hills surrounded by blue waters lapping against the rocks that circle the island, Lamma is where you go to escape the madding crowd.

But there is trouble threatening the fresh-air tranquility as residents are divided over a government proposal for a major development that will see the island's population almost double in size.

If there are 100 people here and two people say they want it, [the government] will talk about those two people
Ng Wai-sun on the government proposal

Islanders up north in the more populated enclave of Yung Shue Wan oppose the project that would see the old 20-hectare quarry site in the quieter southern pier-side town of Sok Kwu Wan turned into a residential compound and resort.

The development would tear up a restored wilderness area and push the population from about 5,900 people to 11,000.

Watch: Lamma residents voice concern over new development plans

"If there are 100 people here and two people say they want it, [the government] will talk about those two people," said Ng Wai-sun, the 50-year-old proprietor of the Sun Salon on the main strip on Yung Shue Wan.

"My friends and I all don't want it," said Ng, born and raised in the area.

He feels the development would harm both the area's ecology and its sense of community.

His view is shared by most across a town that is often overrun with visitors on weekends looking to escape the polluted air of the city just a 25-minute ferry ride away.

The thought of a Discovery Bay-like development is jarring for locals used to family-run shops rather than chain stores and restaurants.

"We come here for peace," said Barbara Tavernard-Thompson, 48, an e-marketing executive who has been an "on and off" resident of Lamma since 1996. "We have centipedes and bugs and I love it," she said.

Tavernard-Thompson is a member of Living Lamma, a residents group wanting to halt the degradation of Lamma's ecology and its village character.

"If they want to attract more people, why not keep the [YMCA] campsite, and make more picnic areas? That would be more in line with Lamma's character," she said.

The proposal, for some 1,200 private flats and 700 subsidised flats under the Home Ownership Scheme, comes as the city continues to grapple with a housing shortage and examines sites across the city.

"I understand we need it to [solve the] housing problem, it makes sense," said Roy Chan Mo-sung , the 43-year-old proprietor of Wing Hing Co., a dry goods general store.

But he was concerned the development might be handed over to a private developer and turned into a Discovery Bay-style resort for the wealthy. "I support it if it's for low to middle income people, but not for the wealthy," he said.

But less than an hour's hike away, residents and business owners at Sok Kwu Wan hold a different view. To them the proposal is a boon.

"It's so quiet here during the week," said Mike Chan Tsan-lam, a 24-year-old waiter at the Rainbow Seafood restaurant.

Chan said there might be about 500 customers during a regular day for the entire 100-metre stretch of seafood restaurants on the waterfront. On a sunny weekend day, they might see as many as 3,000.

"It's also good for the elderly," said Barry Chan Ho-yin, 35, whose family runs the Lamma Mandarin Seafood Restaurant.

A higher population would bring a proper clinic with a doctor every day of the week, better ferry services, a grocery store and other fringe benefits, he said.

While Yung Shue Wan has plenty of grocery stores and restaurants, Sok Kwu Wan is mostly residential with only a strip of seafood restaurants by the pier.

Ferries only make 11 round trips a day, while they make 16 to Yung Shue Wan.

There is no ferry service between the two towns, and the island is car-free.

"The only thing we'd be worried about is how the construction will affect the fish," said Mike Chan, pointing in the direction of the fish farms floating in the bay.