Category: East Lantau Metropolis

Lantau residents don’t feel consulted on development plans: survey

A survey of Lantau residents and visitors has found that just half believe the level of consultation over government development plans for the island has been inadequate.

In addition, more than two-thirds were worried that the air quality of Tung Chung would deteriorate after the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

The survey of 302 people in Tung Chung, Mui Wo, Pui O and Tai O was carried out by the Baptist University College of International Education last October. Just under half of the respondents were Lantau residents, 37% were tourists and 9% were local employees.

Only 56% had heard of the government’s Sustainable Lantau Blueprint, released in June, the Economic Times reported.

Half considered the level of government consultation inadequate or very inadequate, and only 8% considered it adequate.

They were also concerned about air pollution – 70% expect the opening of the HZM Bridge will make the air in North Lantau and Tung Chung worse – and the growing traffic loads in South Lantau, with 54% believing the volume of vehicles should be linked to the environmental carrying capacity.

Dr Karen Wu, a lecturer at the college, said the general public believed that development of Lantau should prioritise conservation of natural heritage and culture ahead of transport development. She said authorities should focus on protecting threatened conservation hotspots.

A Development Bureau spokesperson told the Economic Times that “as a whole, there is general public support” for the government’s Lantau plans.

However, the survey confirms what the government’s own polling has shown, which is that Hong Kong people have reservations about Lantau development, in particular over the East Lantau Metropolis proposal.

Tom Yam, a Mui Wo resident and vocal critic of the ELM, points out that the government has consistently overlooked public opposition. He wrote in an op-ed last August:

After last years’ public consultation on the future of Lantau, the government claimed general support for its development plan, ignoring the fact that more respondents opposed specifically the construction of the East Lantau Metropolis than supported it.

That survey had found that just 31% agreed on the creation of the ELM on artificial islands, with 56% opposing it.

A north Lantau-Mui Wo transport tunnel is back on the agenda

A road or rail tunnel – or both – linking north Lantau to Mui Wo is back on the planning agenda, nearly two decades after being rejected on environmental grounds.

A CEDD study on residential development at Siu Ho Wan, east of Tung Chung, discusses the options for building one or both tunnels through the Lantau North Country Park to support future population growth.

It says the Siu Ho Wan development on reclaimed land would house more than 9,000 people, while the expansion of Tung Chung is forecast to add another 170,000 in the next ten years.

The study, by engineering firm Ove Arup, says the route of any new north-south transport connections would depend on the design of the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM). (Notably the study began in 2015 while the ELM was still being discussed by LanDAC.)

The report canvasses two railway tunnel routes to Mui Wo – one from Siu Ho Wan and the other from Tung Chung East station, due to come into service in the mid-2020s.

It says the route from Tung Chung East would be the most feasible, with fewer engineering issues, a lower cost and a direct interface into the MTR system.

Two possible rail routes (Source: CEDD)

The study also considers possible road tunnels to Mui Wo, suggesting the most practical point would be adjacent to the sewage treatment works.

But the potential route faces a number of constraints, including archaeological and scientific sites at Tai Ho Wan, the North Lantau Country Park and the marshes and freshwater sources around Mui Wo.

It says that with the extra population in Tung Chung and Siu Ho Wan, traffic volume on the North Lantau Highway would go beyond the “manageable degree of congestion” after 2031.

The contentious HK$400 billion ELM, built on 1000 ha of reclaimed land in the waters between Lantau and Hong Kong Island, will not be ready until at least the mid-2030s.

In 2000, the Transport Bureau recommended building a tunnel from Tai Ho Wan to Mui Wo instead of widening Tung Chung Road, at that point a narrow one-lane road.

In a decision unimaginable today, this was overturned by the-then Director of Environmental Protection and instead the widening of Tung Chung Road went ahead.

As the Transport Bureau explained:

The Siu Ho Wan study follows another CEDD report which examines the options for rail and road links from Tuen Mun through northeast Lantau to the ELM and Hong Kong Island.

Separately, the government is seeking HK$88 million for a feasibility study on a freeway from North Lantau to Yuen Long, a plan derided by opposition law-makers as a way to take vehicles to the ELM rather than fixing New Territories transport congestion.

Photo (top): Tai Ho Wan

Govt study proposes ELM road and rail links through northeast Lantau

A government study has proposed building road and railway links to the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) through northeast Lantau, apparently abandoning an earlier plan to connect through Tung Chung and Mui Wo.

A report for the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) suggests building a ‘District Line’ railway route from Tuen Mun through northeast Lantau to the ELM and then to Hong Kong Island, HK01 reports.

The logical connecting point on Hong Kong Island would be Kennedy Town, the westernmost station on the Island Line. However, the line may not have the capacity, so the alternative would be to build a new station nearby and passengers interchange on foot.

The report also recommends building a road along a similar route, with discussion about where would be the best place to land it on Hong Kong Island.

East Lantau Metropolis (Source: CEDD)

Neither of the studies examines transport links from Mui Wo or Tung Chung.

This contrasts with the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint, issued in June, which envisaged a railway connection from Tuen Mun to Tung Chung, then south to Mui Wo and onwards to the main part of ELM via Hei Ling Chau.

According to the Sustainable Lantau Office, a unit of CEDD, a study into Lantau’s internal and external transport networks is also underway.

Yet these reports are being undertaken before the major study into the ELM has begun.

With an estimated HK$400 billion price tag, the 1000ha reclamation in the central waters would be the biggest project in Hong Kong history.

The government is seeking $249 million in cash from Legco to conduct a technical feasibility study, but it has made no economic analysis of the ELM and has no plans to do so.

The project, which is not due to be completed until mid-2030s at the earliest, is premised on a Hong Kong population of more than 9 million. However, the government’s own forecast is that the population will peak at 8.22 million in 2043 and then start to decline.

Citizens group assails land task force on reclamation

A non-government group has attacked the new government land task force, saying it has already breached its commitment to examine all of the city’s land supply options.

The Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, an independent group created as a civil society counterpart to the government body, says when established the task force promised it would have no pre-conceived ideas about land supply options and would consult widely.

But in its first public statement earlier this week, the government committee expressed its support for the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) and five other reclamation projects, including two on Lantau.

Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai had already declared land reclamation as “one of the most appropriate and practical ways of increasing land supply,” with public consultations going ahead next year, the citizens group said in a statement.

It said the task force had ignored other means of adding to the land supply, including 1300ha of brownfield land, more than 800ha of short-term lease land, 3300ha of temporary government land and 140ha of vacant land government sites.

It warned that the 1000ha ELM in the central waters between Lantau and Hong Kong Island involved complex economic, environmental and technical considerations and was already “a huge controversy” in the community, adding:

[We] cannot imagine how the task force can agree on such a huge and complex reclamation plan in such a short period of time

Members of the citizens group include legislators Eddie Chu and Andrew Wan, Paul Zimmerman from Designing Hong Kong, academics, engineers and representatives of other NGOs.

New land body endorses ELM and further Lantau reclamation

Carrie Lam has promised a fresh approach to dealing with land supply issues, but in its early decisions new land supply task force has merely endorsed plans initiated by her predecessor.

The committee, set up in September, has reaffirmed the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) and accepted government recommendations on reclamation at five other sites, including two on Lantau

Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said after the group’s Tuesday meeting that the ELM, a 1000 ha housing and business district scheme in central waters, should go ahead, Post 852 reported.

The ELM, which involves building  on reclaimed land around Hei Ling Chau and Kau Yi Chau islands, is currently stuck in Legco seeking funding for a HK$200 million “strategic study.” If it proceeds, the development, which would connect Mui Wo and Central by freeway, would be Hong Kong’s biggest ever infrastructure project, costing as much as HK$400 billion.

But major engineering works off outlying islands may not end there.

Proposed reclamation sites (Source: CEDD)

A Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) report to the committee stated there may be “opportunities” for more artificial islands “in the southern part of the central waters (in particular the waters off South Cheung Chau).”

The report calls for reclamation work on north Lantau sites of Siu Ho Wan and Sunny Bay as well as southwest Tsing Yi, Ma Liu Shui near Sha Tin and Lung Kwu Tan west of Tuen Mun.

A 2011 CEDD study made exactly the same recommendations.

CEDD said it had recently completed a technical study on Siu Ho Wan and would begin an engineering assessment of reclamation at Sunny Bay next year.

The department, which says since 2000 Hong Kong has dragged its feet on reclamation. Between 1985 and 2000, it created more than 3000 ha of reclaimed land, including the area under Tung Chung, while since than only 690 ha of land was been generated.

It says only 6% of Hong Kong land is derived from reclamation, compared to 24% in Singapore. But nearly 70% of Hong Kong territory is locked up in country park, almost all of it unsuitable for development. However, 27% of Hong Kong’s developed area is in fact based on reclaimed land.

A 2004 court ruling ended reclamation in Victoria Harbour.

Photo: Kau Yi Chau

A masterclass in waffle: govt officials meet Lantau community

In Hong Kong, public consultations are like elections; they happen but they mean little.

Last night’s meeting between officials from the CEDD and the Planning Dept and the Lantau community was a prime exercise in box-ticking.

After the forum Mui Wo resident Tom Yam, an outspoken critic of the development plans, posted an open letter to Robin Lee, the CEDD director for Lantau, pointing out the brief and tokenistic nature of the event.

If there were a highlight, it was probably from Robin Lee himself, who gave us a masterclass in dissimulation. If he were in Legco, he could singlehandedly sustain a filibuster.

Despite, or because of this, he occasionally managed get on multiple sides of the same issue.

On the vexed topic of cattle – something he acknowledged he knew nothing about – Lee suggested people should learn to live with cattle and buffalo while at the same time the animals should be shipped off elsewhere.

He railed against the idea that the Sustainable Lantau Office was loaded in favour of engineers over conservation experts (as reported yesterday, the top three layers of management are all engineers and planners), or that engineers lacked environmental knowledge.

Lee said all engineers had to work with the environment, and he personally had been working on environmental issues since he graduated. Perhaps this is what he means:

The meeting had time for just 15 questions in 45 minutes. A slight majority was sympathetic to development plans, and the rest were critical in various ways, including Tai O’s Lou Cheuk-wing, who called for more development at that end of the island.

If one thing emerged it is that Mui Wo will be at the centre of the action, both in development plans and disputes over land use.

The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint urges the preservation of Mui Wo’s “rural township character,” but officials made it clear last night it will be a major population growth centre, starting with the new HOS apartments next year. The East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) envisages a freeway and an MTR running through it.

Meanwhile, since ELM was announced in 2014, there’s been a sharp rise in land deals between Mui Wo villagers. Watch this space.

Sustainable Lantau in name only, govt plans confirm

Plans for the new Sustainable Lantau Office (SLO) dispel any doubts about the role of conservation in Lantau development schemes.

It has no role at all.

The SLO, supposedly a multidisciplinary agency that will ‘balance’ development and conservation, will in fact be a unit within the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) dominated by engineers and planners.

The top three layers of management will all be engineers, planners or construction professionals. Of the top 16 posts, only one – four ranks down – will be a conservation specialist.

The Development Bureau set out the SLO’s priorities and staffing needs in a submission last month to the Legco establishment subcommittee, which deals with civil service appointments.

It sought permission to create four new senior positions at the top – three engineers and a planner – and to bring in 22 Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) staff (the subcommittee endorsed the proposal except for one of the CEDD staff posts).

The paper repeats the environmental messages of earlier studies, including the main report,  the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint:

..the planning vision is to balance and enhance development and conservation with a view to developing Lantau into a smart, low-carbon community for living, work, business, leisure and study.

When it gets into the specifics of its priorities, it lists out a more than a dozen development projects (see below), including the Tung Chung expansion, the artificial island for the HK-Macau bridge border crossing and the controversial HK$248 million feasibility study into the East Lantau Metropolis.

By contrast, it doesn’t have a single conservation project on its agenda. Instead, refers to initiatives “that are being explored.”

The SLO was originally called the Lantau Development Office, but changed its name following criticism from Legco members that it gave too little weight to the environment.

In reality it is a unit dedicated to outlying islands development with a token nod to conservation. The original title was at least accurate.

The SLO’s priorities, as set out by the Development Bureau:

Photo (top): Kau Yi Chau island, core of the ELM


Lantau blueprint is just another sly sales pitch for East Lantau Metropolis

The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint is not terribly sustainable, is certainly not a blueprint and isn’t really about Lantau.

An actual blueprint explains how something will be done. The ‘blueprint’ released last week is a summary of projects already underway and some boilerplate about economic growth, along with a glowing endorsement of the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM).

It’s a poor return on what was supposed to have been three and a half years of effort, first by the Lantau Development Advisory Committee (LanDAC), followed by six months of public engagement and then further work by the CEDD.

Residents might be relieved that most of LanDAC’s ideas – a cable car to Sunset Peak, a wedding centre at Cheung Sha, an inflatables playground at Silvermine Bay and so on – were struck down.

But few people took any of those proposals seriously; the sole purpose seemed to be to convey the impression that the committee of business cronies and government supporters actually cared about the Lantau economy.

Instead, the real object of this exercise has been to bake the ELM into the planning process.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Since Beijing took control of the city 20 years ago, Hong Kong has become addicted to development projects of escalating cost – the Central bypass, Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, the high-speed rail link and, on Lantau, the Macau bridge and the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator.

It is a national phenomenon. As a weekend New York Times story put it:

“… critics say construction has become an end unto itself. Fueled by government-backed loans and urged on by the big construction companies and officials who profit from them, many of the projects are piling up debt and breeding corruption while producing questionable transportation benefits”

No Chinese official has ever been sacked for building a bridge or an airport. The ‘belt-road’ scheme now being peddled by the Beijing agitprop machine appears to be a way of exporting this economic model as well as excess production capacity.

China shows an ominous resemblance to the ‘construction state’ that dominated the Japanese economy in the 1990s and early 2000s, at one point accounting for 18% of GDP. As with Japan, China’s love affair with concrete is fuelled by the ready access to bottomless funds and the lack of an institutional brake.

The ELM, involving reclamation of 1000 ha and an estimated cost of HK$400 billion, will be the city’s biggest ever project. It deserves careful consideration but instead has been shunted through a series of committees before its inevitable approval.

As critic Tom Yam has pointed out, ELM’s forecast population of 9 million exceeds even the government’s own projection of a peak population of 8.22 million.

Housing aside, the blueprint struggles to explain the economic rationale for this new business district. Here’s a random sample:

“The CBD3 [ie, ELM] can be positioned as a new and smart financial and producer services hub to boost our economic development, provide a large number of employment opportunities, and lead to a more balanced development pattern in Hong Kong.”

This has as much depth as a tourist brochure yet is supposed to justify filling in a sizeable chunk of the harbour at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.

It is because the case for the ELM is so unconvincing that the blueprint slyly pitches it as a salve to the current housing crisis. It’s not.

Even if Legco decides to fund this palest of wan pachyderms, it won’t be providing housing or ‘producer services’ until the middle of the 2030s. You find that spelt out in the report, although if you comb the fine print you will see it conceded the ELM is for ‘long-term.’

Lantau’s greatest development hits

The shallowness of the blueprint shows in two critical areas – transport and conservation.

Transport is the island’s pressing priority, but on this the blueprint has little to offer, except to remind us that the MTR is planning two new stations in Tung Chung and possibly a third in Siu Ho Wan (by happy coincidence the site of an MTR Corp development).

For the island’s south, it suggests expanding the ferry network. A nice idea, but basically a reprise of the 2007 proposal for “island-hopping ferries.”

The best Hon Chi-keung, Permanent Secretary for Development, could offer is that government would study how to improve the Lantau traffic network’s “ability to receive visitors.”  That’s the kind of work that usually goes into a blueprint before it is published.

But transport is not just a problem caused by tourists. Peak hour transport in and out of Mui Wo is already close to capacity. No one has explained how ferry and bus services will cope with the extra load from the public housing now being built. As many as 1800 more people will start moving in next year, increasing local population by around 40%.

The same lack of clarity applies to conservation. The plan identifies areas that should be protected, but doesn’t explain how.  For the steadily shrinking Pui O wetlands – currently the subject of a judicial review – the report lamely suggests that “measures” to halt its destruction “are being explored.”

To push ahead with the ELM, the government seeks a record HK$248 million for a feasibility study. It’s too late to be passed during the current administration, however.

That means the incoming CE has the opportunity to demonstrate she will guided by facts, not gulled by grand schemes. She can demonstrate leadership and conserve both the city’s finances and its natural heritage by axing this reckless monument to greed and extravagance.

Lantau blueprint scraps worst ideas, talks up conservation, upholds ELM

After three and half years of aggressive development plans from the Leung government, the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint is a return somewhat to the status quo.

The blueprint, produced by the Development Bureau, is closely aligned with the 2007 Lantau Concept plan. It even says so on the cover.

It scraps proposals for intrusive tourist facilities, ignores calls for new roads and urges greater conservation of key areas such as Pui O Wetlands and cultural heritage.

Notably it has dumped many of the unpopular proposals from LanDAC, such as the plan to extend Ngong Ping 360 to Tai O, install a chairlift to Sunset Peak and build water-skiing facilities in Shui Hau and a spa in Cheung Sha.

However, it upholds the government’s biggest development plan – the massive East Lantau Metropolis (ELM), the site of a future CBD and housing on 1000 ha of mostly reclaimed land in the waters between Mui Wo and Hong Kong island.

Above & below : What must be conserved 

On the positive side for the environment, the blueprint on a number of occasions acknowledges the need to “conserve sites of natural and cultural heritage importance,” although it doesn’t say how this would be done.

For example, it appears to have taken on board community anger over dumping on the Pui O wetlands.

[The wetland] is rich in biodiversity of wetland plants and macro-invertebrates and is reminiscent of the living of farmers a few decades ago. The water buffaloes living there now are part of that cultural history. … Pui O can be an important educational resource to showcase the rural history of Hong Kong and the valuable wetland flora and fauna.

But while it says measures to protect the wetland “are being explored,” it has no detail.

It also runs up against the logic of the ELM. While it calls for the retention of Mui WO’s rural character, it also endorses the government proposal to build a highway from North Lantau through the town to the ELM.

On the vexed issue of Lantau transport, the document, like the 2007 plan, urges greater use of ferries for round-island transport between villages such as Cheung Sha, Shek Pik and Yi O.  It also suggests convenient ‘hop-on hop-off’ short-distance transport services for South Lantau Rd and expanded cycling and mountain bike paths.

While the report has discarded many of LanDAC’s excessive development ideas, it has some of its own, including a beach volleyball court at Cheung Sha, a water sports centre at Pui O, and “an adventure park at an appropriate location.” It argues for the addition of “supporting facilities” on local hiking trails, including signage, information kiosks, “and provision of maps, toilets and  emergency telephones.”

It also resurrects the government’s super-prison proposal from early in the last decade, suggesting Lantau’s correctional facilities may be relocated to Hei Ling Chau as a part of ELM.

Finally, and again without elaboration, it says it is exploring the feasibility of “themed camping grounds” in places such as Shui Hau, Tong Fuk, Pui O and Shek Pik.

Eight reasons not to build East Lantau Metropolis

The deadline for the public consultation on Hong Kong 2030+ looms on April 30 – the last chance for Lantau people to register their views on the plan to run a freeway across the island to connect Mui Wo to Central via a new commercial centre built on reclaimed land.

Here’s why it shouldn’t be built.

  1. The ELM won’t fix Hong Kong’s housing problem

Hong Kong has the world’s most expensive home prices – a wretched record it has held for the past seven years. That requires solutions now, not in the mid-2030s when the first ELM homes are ready.

  1. The ELM is the worst solution to the housing shortage

The ELM is the slowest, most expensive and environmentally harmful way to provide affordable housing. It proposes to house up to 700,000 people on a site from anywhere between 1000 and 2400 hectares, comprising the islands of Hei Ling Chau and Kau Yi Chau and extensive harbour reclamation. Some alternatives:

  1. The ELM will solve a problem that doesn’t exist

The ELM is based on a forecast population of 9 million. Yet the government’s own figures anticipate that the city’s population will peak at 8.22 million in 2043, after which it will decline. The government has suggested it is a ‘contingency’ – in other words it wants to commit public funds to the city’s biggest ever infrastructure project on the basis that it might be needed.

  1. The ELM has no economic case

The ELM is intended to be Hong Kong’s third CBD – a concentration of high-end office and retail, in addition to the abundant stock that exists in Central-Admiralty and East Kowloon (in the case of office space) and Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui (retail), not to mention the flood of new retail stores at the forthcoming HZM bridge landing zone. The government has not made the case for these other than claiming that direct links to both the Pearl River west bank and Central will create economic activity.

Property consultant Leo Cheung from Icon City says the government’s economic projections “belong to the unknown.” A new city centre of that scale will require up to a quarter of million jobs – there is no sign of where they will come from.

Prime real estate CBD material: Kau Yi Chau

  1. If we build the ELM they won’t come

Since 1997, Hong Kong has built one white elephant after another – Stonecutters Bridge (HK$2.76 billion), the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal (HK$6.6 billion), Central-Wanchai bypass (HK$36 billion), the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge (HK$140 billion and climbing) the high-speed rail link (HK$90 billion and also climbing) and, coming soon, the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator (HK$22 billion). Hong Kong bureaucrats love to pour concrete instead of trying to solve actual problems. Their bosses in Beijing love it, too. China is now exporting its excess construction capacity across Eurasia through its ‘One Belt One Road’ scheme. Heavy public works may have worked well for developing China in the past 30 years, but add little value to a city that already has advanced infrastructure.

  1. The ELM is environmentally destructive

Hong Kong leaders repeatedly stress they aim to balance conservation and development, yet invariably they find that the ‘balance’ comes down on the side of environmental degradation. This has been the case with Shek Kwu Chau, HZM bridge and the third runway. If an environmental assessment of ELM is made, it is guaranteed that the Environmental Protection Department will determine that it meets all the environmental criteria.

Special mention must be made of the repeated claim that this planned concentration of concrete and glass on reclaimed land and fed by freeways will be ‘low-carbon.’

  1. Hong Kong can no longer manage large projects

The ELM promises to be the greatest money pit of all. There is no costing yet, but according to a private estimate, based on previous projects, it will cost HK$400 billion.

This city once had a reputation for financial rectitude. The continued delays and cost overruns on the HZM bridge and the Guangzhou express rail link indicate a reckless approach to managing taxpayer assets and reinforce the view that sound economics are far less important than making a favourable impression in Beijing.

  1. The ELM has been shrouded in deception

From the outset it has been clear the government is determined to impose ELM on the city, regardless of its cost or public opinion. After introducing the ELM in his 2014 policy address CY Leung created a new advisory body stacked with developers and government supporters. After they predictably voted for ELM, the government held a ‘consultation’ that with equal predictability found that most Hong Kong people support the project, despite the thousands of written objections. The government has never showed any evidence for this claimed level of support. It also has never issued any of the consultancy studies that have examined the project. This disdain for public opinion was symbolised by the construction of a 3D model of ELM exclusively for visiting Beijing official Zhang Dejiang while the public consultation was still underway, containing details then unknown to the public.