The suggestion by a business group that Lantau Island be developed as a commercial zone to draw mainland tourists away from crowded Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, at first glance, seems far-fetched. Lantau is much removed from the glitz and glamour of Hong Kong's famous shopping districts, literally as well as in terms of perception. But given what the city's largest island has in terms of infrastructure and the implications of the completion of the bridge to Zhuhai and Macau as early as 2016, it is obvious that it offers massive development potential. When seen from this context, its benefits go beyond mere malls.
Lantau was long among our most isolated and least-developed places, travel to and from being dictated by ferry timetables. The decision to locate Hong Kong International Airport on its northern side necessitated bridges, road and rail links. That opened the way for expansion of Tung Chung as a new town, Disneyland and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. Despite the developments, though, many still see the island as being far away, to be visited only for air travel or recreation.
The Lantau Economic Development Alliance, a grouping of 10 business and community organisations, has the right idea. Picking up on a revised concept plan for the island's development released by the government in 2007, it envisages fully tapping the potential of infrastructure and available land for retail, convention facilities and tourism. The proposal that locating more shops there would take the strain off traditional shopping areas is worthy of consideration. Enlarging on the idea, north Lantau also offers a partial solution to some of our other problems, housing being the most vexing.
Authorities have made much of our land shortage. Piecemeal solutions have been put forward involving developing a parcel of land here, another there. That has led to radical and expensive suggestions like reclamation, building in old quarries, digging out rock caverns and shaving off parts of country parks. Lantau little features in the discussions, yet that is where the most potential for growth lies.
The island has long been known as "the lungs of Hong Kong", a place of mountains, valleys and forests. Country parks make up just over half its area and they need to be preserved. But there is room to move to the north, in a few years to be joined to the mainland and Macau by the bridge. An opportunity for development not to be ignored is staring at us.