Our Hong Kong Foundation has put forward a bold and visionary proposal known as the ‘Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis” program.
Under the proposal, the foundation suggests that the government build a gigantic man-made island with a total land area of 2,200 hectares, or half the size of Kowloon peninsula, off the east coast of Lantau Island for the purpose of building new homes and developing Hong Kong’s third central business district (CBD).
I am strongly in favor of this proposal, and I believe it is a far better idea than the option of taking back the Fanling golf club for public housing development.
Simply put, the proposal of building a new man-made island is so smart, while retrieving the Fanling golf course is so stupid. Here’s why:
Due to our geographical limitations, Hong Kong had been relying heavily on reclamation to provide new land for development over the last hundred years or so, right until the beginning of the 21st century, when land reclamation projects in our city have ground to an indefinite halt amid mounting public calls for enhancing environmental conservation efforts.
As a result, between 2001 and 2015, the government only reclaimed 690 hectares of land, down nearly 80 percent compared to 3,000 hectares between 1985 and 2000.
And the continued plunge in land supply due to public opposition to land reclamation has undoubtedly led to the acute land shortage, skyrocketing property prices and the rapidly deteriorating living conditions our fellow citizens have been facing in recent years.
The Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis program has simply provided a way out of the current zero-sum deadlock between urban development and environmental conservation that has been persisting for years.
Under the program, around 30 percent of the total area of the man-made island would be allocated for housing projects, which, once completed, can provide 250,000 to 400,000 private and Public Rental Housing (PRH) flats that can house an estimated 700,000 to 1.1 million people.
To address public concerns about the potential for abuse of the program by big real estate developers, who are keen on making big bucks by building luxury homes, Our Hong Kong Foundation has proposed that at least 70 percent of the land earmarked for housing be designated exclusively for constructing PRH flats.
In the meantime, 20 percent of the land would be developed into a new CBD to boost our economic growth.
The proposal also suggests that the government build three railways that connect the man-made island with the Kennedy Town, Mei Foo and Tuen Mun South, as well as three main highways linking the island with New Territories West, Lantau and Hong Kong Island West.
Along with the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge that connects our city with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area, it is hoped that the new man-made island can fully integrate into the “one-hour living circle” concept proposed by the central government.
The biggest merit of the Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis program is that it is much more efficient than other options and can provide our city with a vast piece of vacant land ready for housing projects within a relatively short period of time.
Compared to other land options, building a huge man-made island would have less impact on vested interests, and wouldn’t entail providing huge compensations for indigenous residents and carrying out massive population relocation programs.
Instead, all it takes for the project to fly is for it to pass environmental assessment.
As the saying goes, time and tide wait for no one. In order for our city to address the land shortage issue, which we have failed to do in the last 20 years, going for land reclamation might not be the only option but, in my view, is definitely the smartest option.
As far as the suggestion of taking back the entire Fanling golf course for building new homes is concerned, I just couldn’t disagree with it more.
The golf course has provided the major training facilities for the Hong Kong golf team and has remained the city’s only world-class venue for hosting major international golf tournaments.
So far the Fanling golf course has hosted 59 Hong Kong international golf opens, and the tournament has already become a tradition and a symbol of our city’s character.
Does Hong Kong really only have room for developing mass-participation sports like some people have claimed but no place for so-called aristocratic sports like golf?
Executive Council convenor Bernard Charnwut Chan has referred to this notion as “so stupid”. That said, should we really allow ourselves to become so stupid?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 13
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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