Hong Kong must find space on Lantau island for development

The coming consultation will be an opportunity to find the right balance between conservation and growth needs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 1:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 1:32am

Land use and development have become so sensitive an issue that any proposal may provoke the ire of conservationists. While concerns over the environmental impact are sometimes justified, the question is whether there are less damaging alternatives to meet the development needs. For a small city like Hong Kong, the choice is limited.

Before us is a package of proposals to make better use of the outlying island of Lantau. This includes developing an economic and housing corridor along the north shore, and providing more recreational and cultural facilities, such as spa treatment centres, indoor skiing and skydiving venues, and museums. In the long run, it should turn Lantau into a key business district and residential hub with a population of 700,000, according to the blueprint tabled by the government-appointed Lantau Development Advisory Committee.

The proposals, still subject to public consultation and the government’s endorsement, may look massive for an island well known for its serene landscape. Some critics even described the blueprint as disastrous, saying it was like bulldozing through Hong Kong’s lush green backyard. The concerns over the environmental impact are understandable.

It would be wrong, though, to think of Lantau as an untouched virgin rainforest. The biggest outlying island has always been dotted with settlement. For geographical and historical reasons, it was spared major development by the colonial government until the early 90s when the city explored the need of a new airport. Since then, there have always been plans to make better use of the area. The island is now home to a world-class airport, a modern exhibition centre, an international theme park and a business and residential cluster of some 100,000 people. A bridge linking it with Macau and Zhuhai is also under way. Yet most of the island remains unspoilt, attracting scores of visitors to explore its pristine beaches and mountain trails during weekends. The increasing development over the past decades apparently has not put off nature lovers.

Conservation is essential. But Hong Kong is not just a fast-growing city, but also one that thrives on development. For an island that is even bigger than Hong Kong Island, there must be room to take in more. A dedicated development office will soon be set up by the government to take this forward. The coming consultation will be an opportunity to find the right balance between conservation and development needs.