Hong Kong government decisions follow a well-worn path. A government agency endorses a dubious scheme cooked up by some self-serving committee, outcry ensues and after a token consultation the project goes ahead.
That has been the predictable course of the Transport Department plan to open South Lantau Road to non-residential traffic. While the extra 35 tourist buses and cars will have a small numerical imact on the current 2,500 or so vehicles on the road daily, the real effect is symbolic: it is no longer a closed road.
The TD statement makes it clear this is merely the start. When it promises to review the timetable for “the second phase” we can be sure that further phases will follow. The roads of Lantau, narrow and hazardous as they might be, are paved with gold for the developers, landowners and tourist industry hucksters that the government calls on for advice.
In this, as is almost routine, the government is well out of step with community opinion. Surveys by the Save Lantau Alliance, a green group, and the Friends of Lantau, led by District Council election candidate Lau King Cheung, both found well over 80% of local residents oppose any road opening.
In the one concession to local views, the department has halved the number of extra vehicles it was seeking. Yet that it has gone to such trouble for a small change merely underscores that this is the leading edge of a large and obvious wedge.
It is not just ungrateful residents. Police have also failed to get with the programme. As South Lantau police chief Chief Insp. David Neil Bennett has told this blog, the road network is already “stretched to support daily use.”
Just last Monday two people were hospitalised in a pile-up involving a motorcycle, a bus, a taxi and a private car on Tung Chung Rd near Shek Mun Kap.
The background to this is the ambition of the local development faction to build a highway – if not an actual freeway – around Lantau, including a link from Tung Chung to Tai O and a tunnel through the mountains from Mui Wo to North Lantau. As Lantau development fever took hold last year they ran a public campaign, presumably in the hope of capturing some of the cash promising to fall on Lantau.
One of the reasons cited was the danger posed by the current overloaded road network; judging by the recent silence, those fears appear to have miraculously evaporated.
Proponents have also not managed to offer any kind of business case. Who benefits from this? How many jobs will created and where? How does it grow the local economy?
The larger strategy is hardly a secret: grow traffic to the point where the government will be forced to fund the construction of new roads and car parks, ensuring unimpeded access to every corner of South Lantau. At every point of the way the boosters of this banal plan will solemnly intone their desire to “balance” development and conservation.
All of which confirms that ‘Lantau development’ is all about doing things to Lantau; any community benefit will be happy coincidence.