Concrete Plan for Lantau

[Letter to the South China Morning Post, published (slightly cut) on 27 December 2004.]

I refer to the letter headlined "Lantau nature priority" (December 23) by Christine Chow, secretary of the Lantau Development Taskforce. In this, Ms Chow asserts that the Concept Plan for Lantau, recently published by the taskforce, "adopted a balanced and sustainable approach integrating both development and conservation needs." Well, if this is the case, it is not evident in the consultation digest regarding the plan, which suggests the taskforce might better rename its publication the Concrete Plan for Lantau.

The plan has an extensive list of proposed projects that would transform Lantau, especially along the northern coast. Indeed, it seems that it is not really a "plan", but a ragbag collection of already planned and potential projects, including the Hong Kong to Zhuhai Bridge and a Logistics Centre but not, curiously, a new container terminal. (Yes, Ms Chow says the terminal is being discussed outside the taskforce, but the same is surely true of the bridge, the logistics centre, and most other projects in the "plan".) It seems that all sorts of flights of fancy have been tossed into the mix: a second theme park, a motor racing circuit, an indoor man-made beach, for goodness sake.

So the plan is heavy on concrete-style developments, and even though environmental assessments are yet to be completed, and it appears there will be no over-arching environmental assessment for the "plan", the taskforce is already able to tell us the plan is sustainable - with no information on what this means. What, for instance, does the taskforce consider is a sustainable level of smog for Tung Chung, which already suffers severe air pollution, and will surely suffer even more should the road-only bridge, container port and so forth be built? On such issues, the taskforce seems mute.

Looking at the Consultation Digest, the "plan" seems about as bare of nature conservation measures as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. Yes, the north Lantau Country Park extension may at last be established - over five years since it was announced by Mr Tung Chee-hwa. But when it comes to Lantau's prime sites for biodiversity, which often lie outside country parks, the "plan" has little to say - accepting little more than the current protection levels. On land, no nature reserves are proposed; nowhere are there plans for habitat improvement.

Indeed, the plan includes a new marine park along the west coast of Lantau, apparently oblivious to whether this is a good idea given the new container terminal might be built just north of the reserve. The plan says a little about conservation of the Tai Ho stream, yet makes no mention of the likely impact of the nearby reclamation for the logistics centre and/or recreation area, which a map indicates will all but block off the stream mouth.

It is good that there is some consultation now, but why such secrecy beforehand, why has the plan being published only allowing consultations so the proposals can be "reviewed and fine-tuned" (Consultation Digest)?

Why is it that the "plan" seems to have been drawn up by people who have no great knowledge of Lantau? Did everyone make extensive visits to all sites covered, or how much planning was done by marking projects on a map, in an office far from the island? How is it that we're told this is "sustainable development", when it seems so heavy on development, and seems to almost ignore how to be "sustainable" - for future generations?

How is it, then, that with some of the government's best and brightest on the team, the taskforce has produced a "plan" that seems to me as balanced as an elephant and a mouse on a see-saw?

DocMartin

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