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Lawmaker: Lantau reclamation to create new opportunities

Tony Tse calls for feasibility study to be conducted

By joseph Li in Hong Kong – joseph@chinadailyhk.com

The government’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision reclamation plan can produce massive amounts of land not only for residential use, but also commercial development, hospitals, university dormitories, sports and recreation facilities, said a lawmaker representing the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector.

Tony Tse Wai-chuen said Hong Kong faced a severe shortage of all types of lands — with land for housing being the most critical.

He believes that if the reclamation plan is implemented, the reclaimed site, which is in the central waters between Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island, will be tantamount to a new Hong Kong Island — in terms of area and population. This is because it could accommodate about 1 million people while improving the living conditions of Hong Kong citizens.

Tse said Lantau is a suitable location for reclamation, adding that there is no need to worry about costs. The government will likely recover the most of the cost for reclamation and infrastructure projects from land auctions.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, he urged Hong Kong people to support the reclamation plan and not oppose it from the start.“Land supply via reclamation from the sea is more effective than such other means as leveling the mountains and slopes,” ventured Tse, who is an estate surveyor.

Meanwhile, the scale of the proposed 1,700-hectare reclamation is not too big, Tse argued, stressing that there is no problem in reclaiming more land. This is because — apart from addressing immediate needs — it is necessary to reserve land in the land bank for future development.

“To increase the supply of land via reclamation will have the least effect on the surroundings, buildings and the people. Remember when the Mass Transit Railway system was built in Kowloon in the 1980s, road traffic and many buildings in Nathan Road were seriously affected while compensation was given to residents and shopowners,” explained Tse.

Local tycoon Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, who some 30 years ago proposed a bridge linking Hong Kong, Macao and Zhuhai, recently said that a reclamation plan of 1,700 hectares was not big enough.

Wu said the government should reclaim more land from the sea. Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank chaired by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, proposes a reclamation plan of 2,200 hectares.

Discussing reclamation costs recently, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun referred to the Tung Chung reclamation project — which is about HK$1,500 per square feet.

“The cost for the Lantau reclamation will therefore be over HK$250 billion, increasing to around HK$500 billion of total costs after infrastructure facilities (such as roads, water and power supplies) are included. For instance, the third runway project at Hong Kong International Airport will cost HK$141.5 billion.” Tse said.

He believes the reclamation cost is not a monstrous figure if it is divided over five or six years, and after reclamation the reclaimed sites will be very valuable.

“They will be treated as urban sites but not rural sites or sites on outlying islands. Look at the Kai Tak development zone (which housed the old airport), the land there is so expensive at HK$10,000 per square foot,” he predicted.

New opportunities

The reclaimed land will be a premium site for residential and commercial development. Tony Tse said he is confident the property developers will be very keen to bid for the sites — then the total cost of HK$500 billion can easily be recovered.

The government should appoint a consultant to carry out a feasibility study for this large-scale reclamation project. It could examine its suitability, scale of reclamation, cost implications and financial arrangements — as well as the future impact on the economy and development of Hong Kong, Tse said.

He believes the government will apply to the Legislative Council for the funding of consultancy fee in the first quarter of 2019. The feasibility study may take at least a year or two to complete.

“I hope the reclamation work will commence within Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s tenure before July 2022; I think she has a similar wish,” he said.

Tse, an experienced surveyor, dismissed what he calls inaccurate, exaggerated reclamation cost estimate of HK$1 trillion — an enormous amount that would empty the government coffers.

“I don’t know how they come up with such a calculation,” he said.

“Their claim that the reclamation plan would cost huge sums of money and will exhaust the treasury is unsubstantiated and contains groundless, isolated information.

“Still, they are blind to the fact that the government would reap considerable revenue from selling the sites. If they insist that it will cost HK$1 trillion, they should produce relevant financial data and analysis to back their claims,’’ he added.

“Not only are these people misleading society, they are also harming our citizens because they don’t want the people of Hong Kong to live in better conditions,” Tse said.

Tse believes such people always apply double standards, talking about one thing yet doing another. Very often, they blame the government for not doing enough to increase land supply and building more homes, but now they obstruct the government’s reclamation plan.

He said the Lantau reclamation plan will also provide new opportunities for the development of Hong Kong, as it is very close to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, at a time when the development of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon is saturated.

“With a greater role to play in the Pearl River Delta region, Hong Kong will make a bigger impact, become more influential and not be marginalized by the rest of the region,” he concluded.