A debate over moving prisons and landfills to artificial islands has erupted - with an engineering expert saying prime sites such as Stanley jail could be put to better use, and opponents saying they are ready to fight … again.
Former Institution of Engineers president Greg Wong Chak-yan argued that proposals for a "super prison" and waste dump on a man-made island were worth exploring again.
But Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Lee Siu-man warned of "irreversible" loss of marine habitat.
The row followed last month's release of the government consultation document "Enhancing land supply strategy", which mentioned the possibility of creating man-made islands.
It said that waters between Lantau and Hong Kong Island had been identified as suitable for islands with a total area of 1,400 to 2,400 hectares, and that the land could be used for housing or for unpopular facilities.
When officials put forward similar options previously, they backed down after objections.
In the 1990s, the government planned to reclaim land east of Lantau for a container terminal. It remains on the outline zoning plan today, although the planned terminal is now set for Tsing Yi.
In 2003, the government suggested building a super prison for 7,000 inmates at Hei Ling Chau, which required reclaiming 80 hectares. The Security Bureau said then that it could release eight sites for development.
And just this January, the Institute of Urban Design called for the removal of prisons at Stanley and Pik Uk, freeing 39 hectares.
Another proposal, in 1999, was for a 700-hectare island - three times the size of Cheung Chau - to house a landfill off Lantau. There are offshore waste dumps off Tokyo and Singapore.
The prison and landfill projects were opposed by residents, green groups and some lawmakers on environmental, security and cost concerns.
Wong, a former Town Planning Board member, said a man-made island should house "nimby" - not in my backyard - facilities, rather than homes.
"You need very good transport links if you build a new community there with no jobs, unless the residents have their own boats. But should we build an island for the rich?" he asked.
Wong said the cost of building a waste island would be similar to that of a normal landfill site, and technology to stop pollution heading out to sea was available.
Cheung Chau Rural Committee chairman Yung Chi-ming said that while he did not see a problem with a super prison, fishermen had already shown their objections to a waste island.
"They think a dump will affect their marine environment and in turn their catch," he said.
Lee of the Conservancy Association said it was dangerous to delete a large piece of ocean. "Once you fill it in, it's irreversible. The government has to consider the accumulative impact."
Designing Hong Kong chief Paul Zimmerman said the sea around Hei Ling Chau and Peng Chau were possible reclamation areas due to their shallow waters and distance from shipping routes. "Reclamation is easy but it should only be the last resort. The government should not just walk away from problems of land abuse and lack of planning in the New Territories," he said.
The Development Bureau said these kinds of "specialised" facilities had to be deliberated by the respective policy bureaus.