Forget about this grandiose islands plan

  • Carrie Lam’s “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” makes no sense in terms of its scale, timelines and costs. Meanwhile, many objections to it make good sense
PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 10:46pm

Since we have been suffering from “protest fatigue”, it was quite extraordinary that thousands of people turned up for a rally against the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision”.

How often did people get worked up to march against a proposed infrastructure project? This one, though, is different. With massive reclamation off Lantau spanning two to three decades, the plan announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address promises to be the mother of all infrastructure projects. If carried out, the geography of Hong Kong, its very shape on the map, will change forever.

Is it any wonder that people are sceptical? What really outrages people is that the reasons given for the project make no sense in terms of its scale, timelines and costs.

If it’s to relieve housing supply and find homes for the needy, there are cheaper and quicker ways, from developing brownfields and agricultural land to redeveloping government properties and the 170-hectare Fanling golf course, or even the fringes of country parks.

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The government’s rationale makes no sense. Meanwhile, many objections make good sense. Here are the most salient ones summarised by land activist Tom Yam:

Exorbitant cost, possibly to the tune of HK$1 trillion;

Depletion of fiscal reserve;

Compromising the welfare of future generation by taking money away them;

Damage to the environment;

Catering to special interests;

Influence by “small circles” interests such as former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa’s Our Hong Kong Foundation;

Overcapacity for a planned population of 9.4 million when the maximum could be 8.2 million.

There is also the opportunity cost: the government will forget about easier and more sensible solutions in favour of its grandiose plan.

We old-timers still remember the bitter debate before 1997 over why the departing Brits were so keen on building the Hong Kong International Airport in Chek Lap Kok. Everyone just assumed they wanted to deplete the local reserves and get as much business for British interests as possible. Well, history repeats itself. The construction, property and engineering sectors want to make sure they get a big chuck of our reserves, which will dwindle anyway because of our ageing population, according to the government’s own forecast.

Maybe this is the one time the opposition should appeal to Beijing to intervene and tell the Hong Kong government to forget about it.