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Hong Kong housing

How large-scale East Lantau reclamation can provide the best foundation for Hong Kong’s future

Eugene Kin-keung Chan says the enhanced version of the East Lantau Metropolis, proposed by Our Hong Kong Foundation, balances the city’s need for housing, conservation and development

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 1:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 8:05pm

Recently, Our Hong Kong Foundation announced an enhanced version of the East Lantau Metropolis reclamation plan that had been first proposed in the Hong Kong “2030 plus” development strategy.

The enhanced plan is more aggressive. The foundation hopes to see 2,200 hectares of land reclaimed from the waters between the eastern coast of Lantau Island and the west side of Hong Kong Island, more than double the 1,000 hectares envisioned in the “2030 plus” plan. This artificial island, about half the size of the Kowloon peninsula, is expected to accommodate up to 1.1 million people.

Without doubt, this will resolve Hong Kong’s acute land shortage and housing problem in one go. In fact, reclamation is not uncommon in different parts of the world. In Asia, Singapore is an excellent example, with around 25 per cent of its total land area reclaimed from the sea. In Europe, the Netherlands is also well known for reclamation of marshland for agriculture and residential development.

A steady supply of land is the foundation of the sustainable development of a society because land is needed for both housing and a thriving economy, and regrettably land is what Hong Kong lacks. Major reclamation projects beyond Victoria Harbour, such as the East Lantau Metropolis that aim to address this shortage, should not be viewed with suspicion.

Those who argue that the tiny number of well-to-do users from the more affluent classes justifies the demolition of the Fanling Golf Course to build 13,000 homes cannot refuse to support this massive reclamation project, because it can potentially house 1.1 million people.

Watch: Could the Fanling golf course be used for housing?

Land supply debate shows Hongkongers’ views on reclamation changing

The East Lantau Metropolis is a wiser path towards addressing Hong Kong’s land supply needs than demolishing the only golf course in Hong Kong qualified to hold world-class tournaments, such as the Hong Kong Open which has been held there for 59 years.

Only 690 hectares of land was reclaimed from the sea between 2001 and 2015 as opposed to 3,000 hectares between 1985 and 2000

Most of Hong Kong’s land is either hilly or steep slopes and much of it is reserved for country parks. Hilly terrain is not suitable for buildings or is too costly for development. To create more flat land, the colonial British government undertook reclamation. A number of new towns – such as Sha Tin, Tseung Kwan O, Tuen Mun and Tung Chung – are primarily built on reclaimed land.

However, since the 2000s, reclamation has almost come to a halt in the face of fierce opposition from environmental groups. Only 690 hectares of land was reclaimed from the sea between 2001 and 2015, as opposed to 3,000 hectares between 1985 and 2000.

Lack of reclamation is one of the factors contributing to the current acute land shortage, skyrocketing home prices and proliferation of so-called micro flats. It is no wonder that our city is slipping down global livability rankings.

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Hong Kong is densely populated and so cramped that we are set to run out of space for living, working and entertainment. For example, recreational and sports facilities need land, as do schools. The 2,200-hectare East Lantau Metropolis can balance Hong Kong’s need for conservation and development.

By constructing this large artificial island, we can leave our precious country parks alone. Also, the foundation’s enhanced East Lantau Metropolis plan allocates 30 per cent of the land on the artificial island for housing, of which 70 per cent would be for public housing and Home Ownership Scheme units.

This should allay public fears that the plan’s hidden agenda is to build luxury flats for the wealthy. In addition, according to the foundation, up to 20 per cent of the land would be for economic use, in the hope of developing the artificial island into Hong Kong’s third business hub.

Watch: Why land in Hong Kong is so expensive

It is not possible to obtain a 100 per cent consensus on land development plans nor is it viable for the government to seek total agreement from the public before it takes action. In comparison with other land development options, fewer groups will be affected by reclamation, provided that it can satisfy the environmental impact assessment requirements.

No compensation for land acquisition is involved, no hostile opposition is anticipated and no complicated resettlement of affected residents is needed. Of course, land reclamation will never be the only solution to land shortages, but it is undeniably a smart option.

Dr Eugene Kin-keung Chan is president of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals and adviser to the Our Hong Kong Foundation