Is it a public consultation when the public is not invited?
Local residents and NGOs are still fuming over their exclusion from a public consultation on Hong Kong long-term development plans – the latest in a series of steps that appear to be aimed at limiting criticism of the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) project.
The plan to build an new retail, commercial and housing hub on 1000 hectares of sea reclamation off Lantau, with MTR and freeway links between Mui Wo and Central, could cost as much as HK$400 billion.
Residents say they weren’t notified about the forum, held in the Mui Wo Recreation Centre on Wednesday March 22. The event, organised by local district council member Randy Yu and the four Lantau rural committees, was to discuss the Hong Kong 2030+ .
Mui Wo resident Clara Tam, who stood in the 2015 Islands District Council election, said she learnt of the forum late in the afternoon on the 22nd when she spotted posters on Rural Committee Rd.
Groups such as the Living Islands Movement (LIM) and Save Lantau Alliance (SLA), who have worked with government departments on other consultations, say they received no notification. A letter from LIM to members expresses its “deep disappointment” at the staging of the event.
Tam attended the forum with two others – the only non-Chinese people at the event. She said all of the other 60 or so attendees appeared to be supporters of Yu and the rural committees, who vocally applauded the ELM plan and calls for more Lantau roads.
According to Tam, the consultation part of the forum consisted of government officials noting questions and comments but not responding to them.
Unusually for a public consultation, the meeting also heard a call from Allen Fung Ying Lun, political assistant in the Development Bureau, for residents to complain about Legco filibustering, which is holding up funds for the establishment of a Lantau Development Office.
Tam noted that the previous weekend CEDD had held a public forum on Mui Wo facelift. Yu did not attend but it would have been an obvious occasion to promote the forthcoming 2020+ consultation, she said.
Yu did not respond to a query from Lantau News, but his assistant said in an email that posters had been placed a number of locations, starting from March 15. These included:
the ground floor of each residential block in Ngan Wan Estate, near the Mui Wo Cooked Food Market, near the “Park n Shop” in Mui Wo, outside restaurants on Mui Wo Rural Committee Road etc. Copies of the poster were also distributed to village representatives of Pak Ngan Heung, Tai Tei Tong, Wo Tin, Chung Hau (South) and Chung Hau (North).
Another resident, Chai Kim Wah, said in a letter to the SCMP today:
Notices announcing the event were posted only at rural committee offices and a few shops near them. None was posted in areas of heavy traffic like the Mui Wo ferry pier and town centre, or in Pui O, Cheung Sha or Tong Fuk. The notices highlighted in bold type the rural committees of Mui Wo, Tai O, Tung Chung and South Lantau, which represent indigenous villagers, ignoring the rest of Lantau’s diverse population.
This may seem to be much ado about very little, but the ELM, if it proceeds, will almost certainly be the biggest project in Hong Kong’s history. To date the government has showed little willingness to engage in public debate. It seems determined to railroad the project through regardless of public sentiment. It has declined to release any of the consultants’ reports it has commissioned.
ELM was introduced in CY Leung’s 2014 policy address, following which the government established the developer- and government-friendly LanDAC committee. After LanDAC’s vote of approval in January 2016 an official public consultation went ahead, during which government leaders gave a private viewing of a scale model of their proposal to visiting leader Zhang Dejiang, but not to the public.
Tom Yam, a local resident who has been an outspoken critic of ELM, points out that the government has consistently overstated the level of public support. An independent valuation of the ELM forecasts it would cost as much as HK$400 billion, he says.
Despite the lack of a clear public mandate, the government is pushing ahead with the ELM. It is seeking some HK$248 million from Legco for an initial study.
For those who wish to make a submission to the Planning Department on Hong Kong 2030+, the deadline is April 30.