East Lantau Metropolis: White knight or white elephant?

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Local think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation (OHKF) proposes a 2,200-hectare artificial island east of Lantau Island to solve the severe land shortage problem in the city. The foundation estimates the project will take 14 years to complete.

Known as “East Lantau Metropolis”, the new land would be half the size of Kowloon and a site for 250,000 to 400,000 homes, accommodating 0.7 to 1.1 million residents. OHKF calls for reserving 70 percent of the units for public housing.

The foundation’s proposal is an enhanced version of the East Lantau Metropolis plan laid out in the government’s Hong Kong 2030+ blueprint, as the proposed artificial land is double the size of the one the government suggests.

OHKF: Reclamation is key

Mr Tung Chee-Wah, founder of the OHKF and former chief executive of Hong Kong, says grabbing land “here and there” to make enough supply is not efficient, and there needs to be a long-term, forward looking plan.

“The large piece of flat land obtained from reclamation could facilitate a comprehensive urban design plan so that our long-term needs could be fulfilled,” the OHKF says.

“Reclamation is the only option that will not involve disruption to existing properties. Also, it will not add burden to local traffic,” the foundation adds.

It also argues that reclamation can address the severe land shortage and urgent social discontent arising from the dire housing situation, citing examples of reclaimed land such as Shatin, Tuen Mun and Tai Po that are big towns today.

The foundation also cites global examples to support its plan. Singapore and Macau each have 20 percent and 60 percent of their land area reclaimed from sea, respectively..

Vision for a livable Lantau

Under the plan, there would be three major road links, including one connecting to Kennedy Town, one to Lantau Link, and another one to Mui Wo then to Tuen Mun and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge – putting the island within the “one-hour living circle” of the Greater Bay Area.

Three new railways connecting the island to Kennedy Town, Mei Foo and the proposed Tuen Mun South station have also been suggested.

“This will be another core business district,” says Mrs Eva Cheng Li Kam-fun, member of the foundation. She notes that only 30 percent of the land would be for housing, and the rest would be for commercial use.

OHKF also says the man-made island will also keep a buffer distance of at least 200 metres from the existing islands with conservation in mind.

To adopt a green lifestyle, solar panels, eco-shoreline design and a waste management system would be in place.

Pricey and unnecessary?

The OHKF has not estimated the construction cost for its enhanced plan, whose scale is twice bigger than the original one.

Dr Tom Yam, a member of a local group Save Lantau Alliance, already said last year that the government’s Lantau plan could be the most expensive infrastructure project in Hong Kong’s history.

“The total cost of East Lantau Metropolis could reach $460 billion,” Dr Yam estimated.

The project could cost nearly half of the government’s fiscal reserves, which amount to $1,091.9 billion this year.

He points out other concerns for the ambitious plan, such as the difficulty to evacuate 0.7 million people on the island in case of sea level rise.

“Population is also expected to fall in the coming years. The project is expected to be completed in mid-2040s. It cannot solve the short-term housing need, and it is not necessary in the long run,” Dr Yam says.

“It will take 30 years to complete the project. Conditions could change rapidly in three decades’ time. The longer the project will take, the higher the risks,” he says.

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