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Carrie Lam's policy address 2018

Hong Kong ‘throwing money into sea’ with proposed reclamation project for new town, concern groups warn

Environmentalists say project is not necessary as official data indicates the population will peak at 8.22 million in 2043 before declining

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2018, 10:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 1:19pm

Environmentalists and other critics have attacked the Hong Kong government’s plan to build several artificial islands off Lantau Island for housing, saying it will be a white elephant because Hong Kong’s population is set to decline.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the 1,700-hectare reclamation project dubbed the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” in her second policy address on Wednesday and said it would provide homes for up to 1.1 million people and create a third core business district over the next 20 to 30 years.

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But concern groups said on Thursday that such a large-scale reclamation, based on a projected population of nine million, was not necessary as official data indicated the number of Hongkongers would peak at 8.22 million in 2043 before declining.

“Instead of putting taxpayers’ hard-earned money into helping improve our livelihood, the government is instead choosing to throw all the money into the sea for a project that is too costly and unnecessary,” NeoDemocrats lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai said.

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Roy Tam Hoi-pong, chief executive of the environmental group Green Sense, feared the project would drain the city’s coffers, estimating it could cost up to HK$1 trillion (US$128.2 billion), almost all of Hong Kong’s fiscal reserves.

“This is the most damaging policy address in Hong Kong’s history,” Tam said, adding there would be extensive damage to the ecosystem and marine life.

“How can Carrie Lam say this is to help those living in subdivided flats when there won’t be any flats until more than 20 years from now?”

Several groups are expected to march from Causeway Bay to the government offices on Sunday to protest against the mega reclamation plan.

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As at 6pm on Thursday, more than 10,000 people had signed an online petition urging the government to shelve the plan.

On Thursday, Lam declined to state the project’s predicted cost, though a government source said it would be between HK$400 billion and HK$500 billion.

Edward Yiu Chung-yim, a former lawmaker representing the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector, found it unreasonable that the government could not give an official estimate.

“How can they convince the public that it is viable when they haven’t even done any proper estimation of the cost?” he said.

Yiu estimated that reclamation work alone, including 10 transport links, would cost about HK$550 billion, and building a new town would add another HK$550 billion.

The mega project is seen as a scaled-up version of a 1,000-hectare island the government proposed in 2016.

Aside from costs, there were also concerns that the reclaimed area would be vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather.

In a blog post on Thursday former Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying said that from a scientific point of view, it was best not to build artificial islands, but that if the project went ahead, it should be done in phases.

He felt it would be risky to proceed with the whole project at once, and said: “If the world or economic situation suddenly changes, it would be difficult to turn back.”

Lam’s announcement of the Lantau project was also criticised for pre-empting a report from the Task Force on Land Supply which carried out five months of public consultations and was supposed to advise the government on the best ways to deal with the land shortage.

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According to government estimates, Hong Kong will be short of 1,200 hectares for housing and economic needs in the next 30 years.

Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said his committee agreed that the 1,200-hectare shortfall was conservative.

“The shortfall does not have any provisions for an ageing population, nor does it take into account aspirations to improve our average living area,” he said.