An environmental adviser to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying says building a beach at Plover Cove, work on which is due to start next month, could become a "white elephant" as there had been no survey to gauge public demand for it.
Dr Ng Cho-nam, who advised Leung during his election campaign urged officials to rethink the project as the tender of the public works contract will close tomorrow. The project cost has blown out from HK$130 million - when it was submitted to Advisory Council on the Environment and Town Planning Board in 2008 - to HK$208 million.
"The main issue with the proposed Lung Mei beach is that it is not justified, except for political reasons. During the environmental impact assessment process, we were never shown data justifying popular demand," said Ng, a former member of the Advisory Council on the Environment who vetted the project in 2008.
"The government's consultant only said that the district council supported it," he added.
At the time, the government-appointed advisory council endorsed the project by a margin of six to five, after its chairman Wong Yuk-shan cast his tie-breaking vote. Ng and most green group representatives voted against the proposal, as they feared the project would spell ecological disaster for the 200 bird and marine species found in the bay. Lung Mei is located near two sites of special scientific interest - the mangroves at Ting Kok and on Ma Shi Chau island.
Rather that conduct a proper study to gauge public demand for the project in 2002, Tai Po District Council members from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong collected 5,000 signatures of support from residents.
The idea for the artificial beach was first raised in 1998, when the then Regional Council encouraged each of the 18 district boards to suggest a recreational project. The project was shelved when the Regional Council was disbanded in 1999 but dusted off by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
"All along I have had my doubts about the project - for example, there could be a risk of sand loss," Ng said. "The consultant said there would be no problems because the water flow was slow. But what about extreme events like typhoons, which we often have in summer?"
Ng warned that Lung Mei beach could become "another white elephant" like the HK$260 million typhoon shelter built at Tai O on Lantau in 2006 that is used by very few vessels.
The government earlier this week rejected an alternative proposal from an architect group for a smaller swimming pool to avoid reclamation. It said the pool would not satisfy demand, whereas the beach had a capacity of 4,000 people.
The government's plan to turn this part of Tai Po into a tourist location has attracted interest from developers. Wheelock Properties' spa resort hotel was approved by the Town Planning Board in 2009. A proposal by Great City Holdings for spa resort hotel next to the beach featuring 28 villas and "natural preservation" elements has yet to be vetted by the Town Planning Board.