How to win over the public for planned Lantau metropolis

  • If you are going to commit to the mother of all reclamation projects, you should at least guarantee the rest of the island for environmental protection
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 5:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 10:18pm

It’s time for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her lieutenants to, as we say in Cantonese, patch up the damaged cooking wok.

To convince a deeply sceptical public about the viability of her landmark plan to build a metropolis wholly on reclaimed land east of Lantau, it’s clear just telling people about all the supposed benefits a decade or two down the road won’t cut it – even if you marshal movie stars, academics and economists to make the case for you.

After all, we are talking about spending HK$500 billion to HK$1 trillion to build a residential and business hub on 1,700 hectares of reclaimed land that could house 1.1 million people.

There are several ways, though, to placate the public; and it seems the government is at last seeing the light.

If you are going to commit to the mother of all reclamation projects off Lantau, you should at least guarantee the rest of the island for environmental protection.

Under a new government plan, more than 30 hectares of enclaves on Hong Kong’s biggest island will be incorporated into existing country parks to accord them the same protection from development. These are 19 pockets of rural land that sit mostly on the fringes of the parks.

Is reclamation the way to regain control of land from developers?

But this should be the start of an extensive expansion of country park boundaries on Lantau, given the expected population expansion from reclamation on its eastern shores and increasing mainland traffic from the west, thanks to the newly opened Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

Meanwhile, the Task Force on Land Supply – yes, it still exists – is finalising its report on a public consultation on the way forward to meet housing needs.

One of its recommendations is to take back the 170-hectare golf course in Fanling from the exclusive Hong Kong Golf Club when its lease expires in 2020.

The task force estimates the site could yield 13,200 homes for 37,000 people.

On the other hand, it has been argued that the golf course has heritage value; the sport should be officially promoted; and the city generally needs more public greenery and recreational space.

By taking back the whole course, all of these concerns can be met. Earmark sufficient space for public housing on the Fanling site but leave the rest for heritage preservation, and sports and recreation for the public.

Let’s play the populist card against the resistance of the club’s “fat cat” members.