I am writing to express my concern about the recent heated topic aroused by the policy address, the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” reclamation plan. With massive reclamation of Lantau spanning two to three decades, the latest proposed major infrastructure has come under fire from residents and some environmental organizations. The serious housing problem, which the government aims to tackle by building artificial islands, has severely affected people’s livelihood. The intention behind is good. Yet, what outrages people is that the reasons given for the project make no sense in terms of costs, timelines and environmental problems.
To begin with, the enormous cost of the building of the artificial islands did shock the public when it was first released. The government has not released the estimates but the Hong Kong’s financial secretary admitted that it would be costly. This obscure answer from the government raises the taxpayers’ consideration, plus the fact that some scary numbers were estimated by others. Even the estimation with the lowest cost requires more than one-third of the government’s budget, it is no wonder why there are strong oppositions from the public. There are still quite a few social issues that require the government to allocate tons of resources to tackle. Building the artificial islands with pricey cost is simply meaning the depletion of fiscal reserve, further jeopardizing the welfare of future generations. It is quite nonsense in term of costs.
Another problem of the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” is that the government does not deal with the housing problem properly in term of timeline. It seems that the government forgets about easier and more sensible solutions in favour of its bombastic plan. A lack of affordable homes has been the upmost social issues for a long time. Supporters of the plan and the government claim that it aims squarely at one of the serious problems faced by citizens. Nevertheless, the reclamation project will last for more than a decade, which will not really be the silver bullet to overcome the obstacle, improving the situation in the short term. Taking 25 to 30 years to turn an area in the sea into a fully usable plot of land is definitely not useful to cool down the hot and urgent demand of affordable housing, but in fact actually there are some short-term solutions available to ease the problem. The city still has existing land that the government could use. Brownfield land held by property developers, land reserved by indigenous villagers, privately owned farmland and so forth will be potential as a band-aid solution to help with the imminent housing shortage.
Moreover, criticisms raised by the environmental organizations reveal that the government overlooks the negative input of reclamation caused to the environment. Land reclamation is irreversible. The land cannot be returned to a natural state and the Lantau case applies to the ocean. The reclamation sites are located near the Lantau Island. It is known as the habitat of Chinese white dolphins, a protected species and its population is now critically low. The infrastructure will harm the marine animals there, eradicating the habitat of the rare species. Besides, the artificial island is vulnerable to severe flooding caused by climate change and extreme weather. Thus, the safety of the island is also a concern. It is quite nonsense for the government to handle the housing problem without gloves.
Building artificial islands to meet to severe need of affordable housing in Hong Kong is unwise in this stage, especially when the government seems to be anxious for carrying out the reclamation plan rather than going for quick fixes. The government should think twice before considering the reclamation plan and using the resources wisely.