A decision to fill in a lake to build a public hospital highlights the Macau government's dire shortage of land after years of land hoarding by speculators. Building a hospital on a five-hectare site on the Cotai Strip is high on Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on's agenda as the number of hospital beds lags far behind Macau's population growth. But filling a lake while there are large undeveloped sites nearby has sparked criticism of the government's inability to seize land from speculators. Legislator Au Kam-san, a veteran watchdog of Macau's land policies, said it was absurd not to use an existing site. 'It's true that a new hospital is urgently needed, but there are so many unused sites around,' Au said. Work has already started on filling in the 13-hectare lake, which is bounded by Lotus Avenue and Estrada do Istmo (Isthmus Road), near the Macau Dome stadium. Large sites totalling at least 50 hectares sit idle near the lake. One 10.6-hectare plot is owned by a company controlled by Chui Sai-cheong, elder brother of the chief executive. A government spokesman said the body of water being filled in had been polluted by construction projects nearby and therefore posed a health risk. He said reclamation would put an end to the risk while meeting the need for a new hospital. Chui, 53, who became chief executive in December, stressed the need to expand medical facilities when he took questions from legislators on Wednesday following his first policy address. 'With growth in government income and the accumulated fiscal reserve, we have sufficient resources to improve medical services,' he said. Macau has 2.16 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, lagging far behind the 'normal standard' of four beds in developed regions and farther behind Hong Kong's five beds, Chui said. Veteran Macau watcher Dr Camoes Tam Chi-keung said rapid population growth in Taipa and Cotai, two of the three parts of Macau's island, made it imperative to build a hospital there. 'Jams or typhoon-related traffic shutdowns on the bridges between Macau Peninsula and Taipa could result in people dying on the island, where there are only clinics,' Tam said. A 2006 census showed more than 66,500 people lived on the island, comprised of Taipa, Cotai and Coloane. It is widely believed that has now risen to about 100,000 people, although no up-to-date official data is available. In his policy address, Chui pledged to crack down on land hoarding and make flats more affordable to Macau families. 'It'll be a work focus for the government this year to deal with undeveloped land in accordance with the laws,' he said on Wednesday. When legislator Kwan Tsui-hang asked how the government would crack down on land speculation, the chief executive sought to assure her his administration would work hard on the task. 'Please stop worrying and have a little more confidence in us. The Macau government will handle the issue in accordance with the laws,' he said. Au said at least three undeveloped sites could be used to build the hospital. A 10.6-hectare plot to the east of Macau Dome was sold to a company controlled by Chui Sai-cheong for 231 million patacas, or 2,179 patacas per square metre, in January 2006, according to the Government Gazette. According to the gazetted land deal, a hotel had to be built on the site by January 2009. This means the government now has the right to seize the undeveloped site under Macau law. Another plot of over 10 hectares to the west of Macau Dome is also vacant. It is unclear who owns that site as the government has not made the information public. A third plot of more than 10 hectares to the south of the Grand Waldo casino hotel belongs to Galaxy Entertainment and is not being developed. Au said there were at least 10 smaller vacant plots in Taipa. A government spokesman said residents were keen on having a hospital and that the body of water being filled in was a pond rather than a natural lake. Under Macau's opaque land sales system, residents are often kept in the dark about the ownership of undeveloped sites. Macau's Land Law requires government land sales to be carried out through public bidding, with exceptions allowed only with the chief executive's permission. Yet since the 1999 handover, only a handful of more than 400 sites sold by the government have gone through the public bidding process. Without open bidding, sites were often sold at below-market prices. In a rare open land auction in January 2008, two plots in the Macau Peninsula's northern Fai Chi Kei area totalling 4,700 square metres fetched HK$1.4 billion, or HK$297,872 a square metre. The prices for many land deals in the past few years were less than 10 per cent of the openly bid price. Controversial land deals have become a source of public anger, with residents decrying 'land giveaways' in almost every large public protest in the past few years.