4th July, 2014
East Lantau Artificial Islands: Another Project to Speed Up Assimilation
Hong Kong SAR Government proposed an artificial islands project in East Lantau is said to “improve kland supply strategy” and “accommodate increasing population”. The government also plans to reclaim more land and develop caves on the sore of Victoria Harbour, which means that all remote islands will be connected to Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Lantau Island, and turned into anchor baby towns and Chinese tourist theme parks. Victoria Park will suffer from severe damage. Legislative Council’s Public Works Sub-committee debates the funding request for the preliminary research for the artificial islands plan on 18/June, 24/June, 25/June and 2/July. Lawmakers including Gary Fan Kowk-wai, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and Albert Chan Wai-yip have been filibustering at the legislature, and the debate is postponed to be continued in October. With only around 60 motions to be processed, it is estimated that a meeting of around 60 minutes will be sufficient for the funding to be passed (given the pro-China and pro-establishment camp takes the majority seats in the LegCo). Gary Fan said that the plan will allow yet more Chinese visitors to enter Hong Kong.
During the 8:30am Public Works Sub-committee meeting on 2/July when lawmakers were supposed to debate on the preliminary funding for the artificial islands, Chairman of the Sub-committee Lo Wai-kwok (who won his seat at the Engineering functional constituency with 2,811 votes) has banned any new motions to be submitted for debate in order to speed up the funding process – similar tactic Ng Leung-sing (who won his seat at the Finance functional constituency with 0 vote) used at the Financial Committee that recently passed the funding for the controversial Northeast New Territories Development Plan.
Fernando Cheung proposed to debate on motions, including building schools for special needs children, ahead of other controversial motions (3-landfills and 1-incinerator). Gary Fan and Albert Chan seconded the motion. However, Tam Yiu-chung and Wong Kwok-hing (both from DAB) objected Cheung’s proposal and claimed that all motions are important. Tam and Wong demanded Cheung, Fan and Chan to withdraw all their amendment motions and stop filibustering. Chairman Lo Wai-kwok insisted on sticking to the original agenda and proceed with the funding request for the research on artificial islands.
Fan, Chan and Cheung then read out their amendment motions accordingly, each motion was given one minute to vote on. Each motion was voted down by 15 votes of No (pro-China and pro-government camp) versus 4 or 5 votes of Yes. The remaining 60+ motions will be processed in the October debate.
At the last debate, Fan said that given the artificial islands plan requires over USD29 million funding, the plan should be compared with other similar studies including the Chek Lap Kok Airport research funding request. Gary Fan also said that the capacity for Cheung Chau and Lamma Island to accommodate tourists has reached it maximum, the artificial islands will put further pressure on these two islands. Albert Chan pointed out that if the plan is put into place, a large number of cars will drive pass Lantau Island which will cause catastrophic impact to the air quality in Cheung Chau, Lamma Island and other nearby islands. Albert Chan also questioned the conflict of interest between the consulting company used and the reclamation construction companies. Fernando Cheung demanded to evaluate the number of public housing units that will be built in the artificial islands and reclaimed land. All these motions were objected by the pro-China and pro-establishment camp.
During an interview on 2/July, Gary Fan said that the artificial islands will be developed into tourist zone, and will connect with Tuen Mun highway and Lantau’s Hong Kong-Zhu Hai-Macau Bridge, connecting the islands directly with China, which will speed up the Hong Kong-China assimilation and encourage more tourists from China, anchor babies, and smugglers to enter Hong Kong soil. Residents in Cheung Chau, Lamma Island and Ping Chau have expressed their concern over the destruction of the islands once they are connected with Hong Kong Island East, Kowloon East and Lantau Island by bridges or rails. Gary Fan said that these concerns are not without grounds as the Hong Kong SAR Government has been aggressively developing without strategy and plan evident by its determination to destroy the green belts in Northeast New Territories for development recently. He added that the government will exhaust any means to lay its hands on the islands.
When asked if the islands will provide large number of job opportunities as the government claimed, Fan said that it is an excuse. The plan stretches for almost two decades and will reclaim over 2,000 hectare of land in order to build a residential and commercial zone. However, the government overestimates the population growth in Hong Kong but at the same time fails to specify whether these islands will be solely for services industry, and fail to detail the ratio of public and private residential unit, which means it is not cost effective. He called this plan a white elephant project with an aim to assimilate Hong Kong and China but fail to ensure that locals will be benefit from the job opportunities that it claims to bring.
In addition, Fan stressed that the 2,400 hectare of reclaim land will severely affect the water quality of Victoria Harbour and damage the water life and fishing industry in Hong Kong.
Fan estimated that when the debate resumes in October, in less than one hour the artificial islands plan’s funding request will be passed immediately after the 60+ amendments are voted down.
In the 2014 Policy Address, it mentions the Hong Kong SAR Government is studying development of East Lantau and its pheriveral area in order to build an “East Lantau Metropolis” to accommodate an expected increase of population. It will also become the core commercial centre outside of Central and Kowloon East, with an aim to encourage economic development and provide job opportunities.
On the Sum-committee’s meetings on 24/June and 25/June, Fan and Cheung criticised that the two consultations twisted the public opinions as over 85% of the opinions object reclamation and the government announced that the majority of the public support the plan.
During both consultations, the authorities had never specified the exact locations of the artificial islands. However, after the Policy Address in January, the authorities announced the East Lantau artificial islands project. The media immediately cited that “government source” has picked Kau Yi Chau for the site of an artificial island. However, the Budget later on announced that artificial islands will be built.
Summary of the artificial island plan:
Policy Address announced in January 2014 stated that the government will study the possibility of building an over 1,000 hectare artificial islands near Kau Yi Chau sea area as “East Lantau Metropolis” which will be connected to Hong Kong Island by bridge or tunnels, and become the next core business district (CBD) after Central and East Kowloon. CY Leung, the Chief Executive, also decided the set up a “Lantau Development Consultation Committee” in order to “to capitalise on the benefits brought by major infrastructure projects in the area and the synergy between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta”.
On 19/March, Development Council proposed to request for USD29 million funding from LegCo to study the possibility to construct artificial islands near Kau Yi Chau for the development of new town centres.
The Development Council revealed on 8/April that the plan is to build an artificial island of between 600 and 800 hectare near Kau Yi Chau for commercial and residential use. Besides Kau Yi Chau, stated the Development Council, the government will build additional islands in the nearby sea area, pushing the number of artificial islands to a maximum of four of 2,400 hectare in total. The artificial islands will be connected to North Lantau, Hong Kong East and Kowloon East with railways.