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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
Lantau residents, NGOs seethe over stacked consultation
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.
Contentious Lantau development body ends first term
The Lantau Development Advisory Committee (LanDAC), the developer-friendly advisory body responsible for ideas such as the end of the closed road, extending Ngong Ping 360 and filling in Shek Pik reservoir, has reached the end of its first term.
The current committee held its final meeting Monday and is now preparing a report to the government. The committee will continue its work, but its membership is unclear.
Yesterday’s meeting spent time on transport infrastructure, Apple Daily reports. Some members argued that if the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) is built in the waters off Mui Wo, providing road and rail connections direct to Hong Kong island, then the MTR also be extended on the north coast to connect to Tuen Mun and the New Territories, complementing the Chek Lap Kok-Tuen Mun road link now under construction. Continue reading
Hong Kong crazy is all too clear from here
The onset of Occupy has meant outsiders have had to grapple with the crazy that lies in the shadow of our dazzling skyscrapers. Of course, CY Leung has done his best to make it clear, and no-one could accuse Regina Ip of not playing her part.
But from this far corner of the territory, we see it all too clearly: the pointless public works, the collusion with business, and the indifference to the environment and the community.
These come together in the current bout of Lantau development fever, sparked by the progress of the Macau bridge. When that HK$80 billion monument completes in 2016 it will be time for another boondoggle, and Leung and friends have their hearts set on an artificial island. To be precise they envisage reclamation in the waters between Lantau and Hong Kong to turn Hei Ling Chau and Kau Yi Chau into one large island over which we can drive from Mui Wo to Central.