The government’s grand long-term blueprint for Hong Kong, which envisions a 1,000-hectare man-made island in the middle of the sea, could cost over HK$400 billion, a concern group estimated. The estimate for the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) project was raised Saturday at the first public forum on the 2030 Plus blueprint. The proposed ELM – the size of about four Cheung Chau islands to be located east of Lantau – was included in the 2030 Plus long-term planning blueprint. It is one of two major new towns the government hopes will resolve a projected shortfall of 1,200 hectares of land for housing and economic development. The ELM is envisaged to be the city’s third business district, with railway and road connections to Lantau, western Hong Kong Island and Tuen Mun in the New Territories. The new town would accommodate a population of between 400,000 and 700,000. Coalition slams east Lantau reclamation plan as Hong Kong’s largest white elephant, saying it is too costly and impractical However, the ambitious plan has not yet sold everyone. “If the government is logical and rational, it will consider making better use of existing land resources as a more economical option,” said Dr Thomas Yam Hinbong, a member of the Save Lantau Alliance, which estimated the cost. Yam said the ELM railway would require about 30km of tunnels and railways of the same length, which could cost HK$327 billion. The group based its estimate on the cost of building the Airport Express in today’s money and the cost of building six times the 5km Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok tunnel. The reclamation could cost HK$44 billion, based on the cost of reclaiming the Chek Lap Kok Airport, which is about the same size, Yam added. And building tunnel entrances and exits could cost HK$29 billion based on current similar projects. The combined cost equates to almost half the city’s fiscal reserves, which stood at HK$860 billion in March. Plans for expanded living space and scenic areas in Hong Kong’s post-2030 blueprint Yam insisted there was ample existing land resources, listing 1,000 hectares of unused agricultural land held by the city’s major property developers, and another 900 hectares reserved for indigenous villagers to build small houses. “If the government has the political will [to tackle vested interests], there will be land,” he said. “But the government does not have the political will.” Government officials dismissed the pricey prediction at Saturday’s forum, saying it was still too early to estimate the cost of the ELM project. Under Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung said the government was still studying the plan and had not estimated the cost. He denied the project would cost the group’s estimate of HK$400 billion. Ma cited Singapore as an example, which enlarged its land bank via reclamation 30 years ago, and said Hong Kong also needed long-term land reserves for future development. Director of Planning Raymond Lee Kai-wing said a public consultation on land supply from 2011 and 2013 showed more people supported reclamation than those who opposed it.