The government’s much-criticised scheme to build a massive new business and housing district on 1700ha of reclaimed land in waters off Lantau is certain to go ahead.
In her annual policy address on Wednesday chief executive Carrie Lam vowed to proceed with the plan, currently estimated to cost HK$624 billion, making it the easily most expensive public works project in the city’s history.
The Legco Finance Committee, now dominated by pro-government members, began considering approval for the initial HK$550 million funding on Friday.
But in her speech Lam struck a defensive note, calling on people “to act in an objective and fair manner with the long-term interests of Hong Kong in mind”
This is a departure from her government’s longstanding claim of wide public support for the scheme.
Lam also vowed to “continue to listen to the views of various sectors of the community,” despite having rejected widely-held criticisms about the cost, the necessity and the ecological risks posed by the project.
Even pro-government legislators are querying it, with more than 20 lodging questions about the project. They are also determined not to appear in a rush to approve the funding application, scmp.com reports.
One pro-Beijing lawmaker, Wong Kwok-kin, a member of Lam’s cabinet, complained about the public backlash they will face for voting for Lantau Tomorrow.
Appearing before Legco on Friday, Development Secretary Michael Wong faced questioning about the cost and viability, the likelihood of delays, and protection of country parks.
“We can’t issue a blank cheque and just allow you to proceed with the study and all the steps subsequent to it. We need to be careful about every penny spent,” Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, of the Business and Professionals Alliance according to scmp.com.
Wong was also asked whether reclamation was a better option than building in country parks, which account for around two-thirds of SAR land.
He said there was little support for building in parks and that it would take additional legislation.
But in a comment that carries some significance for Lantau residents, Wong downplayed the second phase of the scheme, which envisages a 700ha reclamation around Hei Ling Chau, just off Mui Wo.
Without elaborating, he described the initial phase of 1,000 ha reclamation around Kau Yi Chau as the “real” component of the project, and the second 700 ha phase of Hei Ling Chau as “virtual.”
Tom Yam of the Citizens Task Force for Land Resources has accused the government of “magical thinking” in believing the project would help solve short-term housing needs and that it will be ready by 2033.
Yam points out that government’s own forecasts anticipate the city’s population to start falling from a peak of 8.1 million from 2041.
He said the government had already identified 1400 ha in land from brownfield sites in the New Territories, while land developers had warehoused a further 1000ha.
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