Politics

Controversies behind ambitious Lantau plan

 

by Julianna Wu

With its rich natural resources and beautiful landscape, Lantau Island is Hong Kong's backyard garden.

However, the island, popular with tourists and hikers, may soon become a prospering metropolis with skyscrapers and shopping malls if the government is allowed to go ahead with its recent plan.

Despite numerous criticism and insufficient public consultation, a plan to develop Lantau Island will be submitted to the Chief Executive by the end of 2015 and then to the Legislative Council.

The Overall Spatial Planning and Conservation Concepts for Lantau, endorsed by The Lantau Development Advisory Committee (LanDAC ) in September, is expected to bring a nine-time increase in population from the current 105,000 living on the island and five times more jobs to the current market of 470,000.

The plan, initiated in 2007, proposes to build infrastructure, housing, leisure facilities and tourist attractions while preserving nature and heritage.

It outlines the creation The East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) as a core business district and also includes the creation of water taxis, a cable car, funicular railway, cycle tracks and a round-the-island shuttle.

However, the plan faces strong opposition from the community. Many question whether this ambitious project is what the Hong Kong public actually wants.

Tom Yam, management consultant with a doctoral degree in electrical engineering, doubts the plan objectives can be meet, saying Hong Kong will not have enough people to fill new towns.

"Together with the Development Plan of Northeast New Territories, new towns including Lantau would bring 1.7 million more people to the city," he said. "But Hong Kong's population is only expected to increase for 600,000 more by the year 2050."

"The government hasn't done a needs analysis for the Lantau Development Plan yet," said Mr Yam. "They already assume there's a need and they're pursuing the next step of feasibility study already."

"That's not logical," the consultant said. "You need to show the public there's the need of doing so before you study the feasibility."

He submitted a proposal last year to ask LanDAC to conduct a strategic needs analysis of the development of ELM, concerning building an artificial island in the sea between Hong Kong Island and Lantau.

But he received no reply.

LanDAC, which is chaired by the Secretary for Development and consisted of nine ex-officio members along with 20 non-official members, was formed in 2014 as an advisory committee to the government concerning the Lantau plan.

Eleven of the 20 LanDAC non-official members come from the tourism and economic industries.

The rest come include the Islands' District Council, one geography professor, one Legislative Councillor and the president of environmental organization Green Force.

But "decisions and recommendations (of the committee) will be biased and that should be taken into account," said Paul Zimmerman, a district councillor in Southern District and the CEO of Designing Hong Kong, a NGO for better urban environment.

"It would be better to have a wider range of interests and background either in the committee or in a separate plan review panel," Mr Zimmerman said.

Kevin Chan Sze Wai, senior town planner of the Planning Department says the two-tier declaration system of members declaring interest on appointment and at meetings can protect them from criticism or embarrassment from any interest that has potential conflict with the work of LanDAC.

But "other than the committee on strategic development and the Lantau development advisory committee, the public and specific other stakeholders have not yet be consulted about the plan," said Mr Zimmerman.

Secretary for Development and the chairman of LanDAC Paul Chan Mo-po, said the public consultation will happen in the beginning of next year.

"The only remaining green belt in the city where people can enjoy fresh air and the natural environment is disappearing," said Mr Yam. "Lantau should remain what it is now, instead of epitomizing the government's business and political interest."

(Edited by Joanna Wong)

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