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(EN) Letter to Hong Kong Lantau Tomorrow

Hello, Young Men and Young Ladies of Hong Kong,

The new Policy Address has advanced a vision of “Lantau Tomorrow”. It is proposed to reclaim the waters around Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau by phases, into a number of man-made islands, totalling some 1,700 hectares for building some 400,000 housing units capable of accommodating a population of up to 1.1 million. It has sparked off heated debates. Some supported the reclamation as a means to tackle the acute housing problem, whilst others disagreed or queried that the proposed reclamations would adversely affect the environment and eco-system, and the project would exhaust our financial resources. They consider that 1,700 hectares are unduly excessive, and that instead of relying on such a remote project the Government should maximise the use of existing land and carry out short- and medium-term measures to cope with the imminent land and housing problems.

In fact, the Policy Address has also proposed a number of short- and medium-term proposals to increase the supply of land and housing, some of which are in line with my proposals in my election platform. They include : adjusting the proportion of public and private housing on new land to 7:3, increasing the supply of transitional housing through various means, accelerating the redevelopment of Civil Servants co-operative housings, expediting studies on the development of brownfield sites, initiating a “Land Sharing Pilot Scheme” to make good use of privately owned agricultural land in the NT, re-launching the policy of revitalization of industrial buildings, and streamlining of development proposal processing procedures, etc.

Nevertheless, the density of development on existing sites in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon can obviously not be increased much more, encroachment into Country Parks would also evoke many oppositions. Development on agricultural land and “brown-field” sites in the NT would both have to deal with complex problems of the environment and ecology, land resumption, clearance and ex-gratia compensations and resettlement of existing users, households, businesses and even the ancestral graves of indigenous villagers. If the Government cannot handle these matters properly, it will be alleged for colluding with developers and the villagers.

Looking at the cases of the development of Northeast New Territories and Wang Chau, and whether the Fanling Golf Club site should be resumed for housing development, it could be seen that the time, cost and controversies involved in the development on existing land will not be less than development on reclamations. On the contrary, in principle reclamation does not involve land resumption, demolition and resettlement issues, and the land is flat and relatively easy to plan. Moreover, as the reclaimed land will all be Government land, there will be no collusion between the Government and the private sector. The sales of the sites for private housing, industrial and commercial uses would also bring to the Treasury significant revenues, which would off-set some, if not totally, of the costs of the reclamation and infrastructure works.

Some people quickly jumped on the “Lantau Tomorrow” vision on the internet by exaggerating that the reclamation would only be sufficient to meet the needs of the new immigrants. The criticism was echoed by some young people. In fact, we could examine from another perspective the questions as to whether there is a need for building artificial islands and whether the reclamations are excessive.

Much to the envy of the people of Hong Kong, the Singaporean Government has recently issued guidelines to stipulate that the average unit size of new private residential developments should not be less than 915 square feet. The current median per capita living space in Hong Kong is only 161 square feet, barely half of that in Singapore. I believe that all Hong Kong people, especially the young people, hope to have a little more living space in the future.

If the population of Hong Kong were frozen at the existing level of 7.4 million without any growth, an increase in the per capita living space by 50 square feet alone, and at a plot ratio of 6, will need 617 hectares of land. Adding on the land for the provision of transportation infrastructure, community services, open space, industrial and commercial facilities etc., about 2,000 hectares of land will be required. Is the Government’s proposal of reclaiming 1,700 hectares a very excessive proposal?

Is a reclamation area of 1,000 hectares, 1,700 hectares or 2,000 hectares considered to be adequate? What are the percentages of the land used for residential development, infrastructures, community facilities, open space and industrial and commercial uses? How to balance environmental conservation needs and cope with the impacts of extreme weather? To answer these complex and technical questions, it would certainly require an independent, professional, objective and in-depth planning and study, so that everyone could make their choices in a reasonable and rational manner.

I have turned 64 just a few days ago, and I will be eligible to apply for my Senior Citizen Card soon. The “Tomorrow” in the “Lantau Tomorrow” Vision belongs to you. I hope that everyone will cherish this “Vision” and support the Government in carrying out the above planning studies as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,