Carrie Lam to press ahead with Lantau Island reclamation, whether Hong Kong public likes it or not
- City leader cites need to ‘make a responsible response to those waiting’ for public housing
Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday hinted she would not scrap a plan to build a massive island in the city’s waters, even if public opinion turns against it.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s comments came before the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply was due to conclude a public consultation.
A man-made island to the east of Lantau Island was one of 18 options the public was consulted on in the five months from April. The task force intended to summarise opinions and put them in a report for the chief executive by the end of the year.
Lam said the task force, in its brief midterm report to her, said the government could not delay increasing land supply, and it had to source more land in various ways and prepare for the future.
“To truly meet these three requirements, reclamation cannot be avoided,” Lam said, in response to a question on whether she would scrap the plan if public opinion turned out to be against it in the task force’s final report.
Lam cited the latest average waiting time for public rental housing for low-income families, which had risen to five years and five months – its longest in 18 years.
As of September, there were about 150,200 families or single elderly applicants and about 117,500 non-elderly single applicants in the queue.
“The government has to make a responsible response to those waiting,” Lam said.
In her policy address in October, Lam extended the scale of the mooted island reclamation from 1,000 hectares to 1,700 hectares, dubbing it the Lantau Tomorrow Vision. The extension – which was never mentioned during the public consultation – surprised many, including some task force members.
Critics said she had taken away the task force’s credibility by pre-empting its findings. They also noted the irony that it was Lam who initiated the establishment of the task force to find consensus on land supply measures.
Several political parties and civic groups have done their own surveys on the project, some showing the public in favour of the plan and some showing the public against it.
In the latest, conducted by the University of Hong Kong and commissioned by pro-democracy parties, researchers interviewed 1,000 people over the phone and found 49 per cent opposed building the island, while 39 per cent supported it.
Lam dismissed the surveys, saying results could vary based on how questions were asked.
Before the Lantau project is finalised, Lam said, the public would be consulted.
“We are not saying reclamation will start tomorrow, or next year. But if we don’t plan today we cannot satisfy the requirement of planning for the future,” she said.
Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of the anti-reclamation Save Lantau Alliance, said Lam’s comments showed the “big debate” Lam claimed she wanted to initiate through the public consultation was “fake”.
“There is already an agenda before the discussion, and Lam has now come out and told everyone she is against public opinion,” Tse said. “This is hugely different from her promise to listen to people’s opinions when she was running for her job.”
Tse urged the public to take part in a campaign – started by his group and others – to collect 100,000 signatures against the plan by mid-December.
“The more she says things like this, the more we need to come together and show public opinion,” he said.