Could building an artificial island almost half the size of Kowloon be the solution to Hong Kong’s land supply?
A pro-establishment think-tank, led the city’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, thinks so, this week laying out details for a proposed multi-billion dollar 2,200-hectare land reclamation project to house up to 1.1 million people.
Critics, though, were less convinced, calling such massive land reclamation projects unnecessary in the face of alternatives.
The proposal — which would include between 250,000 and 400,000 housing units, enough for 700,000 to 1 million people — was unveiled by the Our Hong Kong Foundation, which partnered with three global consultancy firms to develop the plans.
It would slot between Hong Kong and Lantau islands and be built across two stages, taking some 14 years in total, according to Eva Cheng Li Kam-fun, the foundation’s executive director.
Equivalent to about 110 Victoria Parks, or almost half the size of Kowloon, the new island would be twice the size of the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM) — the government’s current proposal to combine two islands east of Lantau through land reclamation in the 2040s.
The ELM — supported by Chief Executive Carrie Lam — is one of 18 measures suggested by the Task Force on Land Supply to tackle the city’s land shortage.
It has drawn strong criticism for being prohibitively expensive, overly ambitious, and posing huge risks for marine life.
But despite this, the foundation called the ELM “not visionary enough.” They named their project the “Enhanced ELM” and said it would be a “game changer.”
At its press conference this week, the Foundation did not provide a total estimate of the project’s cost.
It estimated the reclamation would cost HK$1,360 per square foot. The proposed artificial island would be connected via rail and roads. Some 70 percent of the land could be reserved for public housing estates and the rest for private residential use.
Stephen Wong Yuen-shan, on of the foundation’s senior consultants, said the reclamation and connections would cost about HK$2,010 per square foot, according to the SCMP.
Those figures — which did not include inflation — would mean a price tag of HK$476 billion (US$60.6 billion).
Quoted by HKFP, chief executive of the environmental group Green Sense Roy Tam estimated that plans would cost at least HK$600 billion in total.
“We do not agree with the idea of the ELM project. It is not cost-effective that doesn’t solve the land problem in Hong Kong,” he said, according to RTHK.
“We believe using the existing “brownfield sites” and ”village-type development sites“ are the most effective solution.”
Addressing environmental concerns, Wilfred Lau, director of engineering consultancy firm Arup, which is in charge of the technical assessment, said the proposed island would be built 200 to 300 meters away from the coastline to minimize its effect on marine life.
He also maintained the island’s location would not overlap with the habitats of the Chinese white dolphin.
Critics, though, were highly skeptical.
Greeners Action representative Wong Ka-Chi said land reclamation was unnecessary.
“In fact, there are 1,800 hectare of undeveloped land in Hong Kong, including brownfield sites,” villages and golf courses. We don’t see reclamation as a necessary option,” he said.