On 23 November, I was among over 21 representatives of groups including rural committees and green groups who gave presentations to two Legislative Council panels, regarding the Hong Kong government's Concept Plan for Lantau; I attended as Director, Hong Kong Outdoors.
Below is the introduction to my written submission (33 pages in all); with only three minutes to speak, I did not include all the intro in my presentation - but did note re HK govt and "demigod" property developers and that the planning process is faulty; also said concept plan woeful; gave some quotes from HK Outdoors members and visitors; and mentioned alternative, sustainable development plan. I also showed a photo of me with my baby son, David, on Cheung Sha - saying I hope he can still enjoy beautiful Lantau in 20 years, and take his children there.
HONG KONG GOVERNMENT AND DEMIGODS SET TO TRANSFORM LANTAU
A Submission to the Legislative Council’s Panel on Planning, Lands and Works and Panel on Environmental Affairs
Dr Martin Williams, Director, Hong Kong Outdoors
Introduction: a Juggernaut of Development
First, I would like to thank the Panels for giving me the opportunity to make this submission on behalf of Hong Kong Outdoors, a website with over 100 members and attracting several thousand visitors each month.
That said, I really wonder whether this submission can make an iota of difference. My impression is that the government plans for Lantau stem from a philosophy that development is synonymous with big projects that involve pouring in substantial funds and concrete. And so-called “development” projects don’t have to be financially viable, or meet the hype that surrounded them during planning stages – Cyberport being a classic recent example.
As you likely know, the Financial Times recently asserted that, “Only in Hong Kong does authority bow before property developers as demigods, deferring to their wisdom on civic issues.” Is the government likewise bowing to such demigods regarding Lantau? I wonder.
Of course, the fact I am making this submission suggests I have slightly optimistic that it’s just possible to make a difference. But as yet, there are few indications that it’s possible to halt or change the course of the juggernaut of development threatening to roll over north Lantau.
A Faulty Process
I believe others will make submissions with strong coverage of the process of devising the Lantau plans. Here, then, is a brief sketch of my impressions.
Lantau – and especially north Lantau – was almost untouched until the advent of the airport scheme. With this scheme came several plans and ideas, some of which came to fruition, some of which were badly spoiled. The airport was built much as planned. Yet Tung Chung – initially envisaged as a pleasant suburban town – became much like any of the newer satellite towns in Hong Kong, with buildings but little regard for the people who would live in them. Elsewhere, plans for an industrial centre were shelved; indeed, there was a suggestion northeast Lantau could become a tourist paradise – quite how was not explained.
Then, rather abruptly, came the Lantau Development Taskforce, brought together with a remit for making plans for Lantau. Working behind closed doors and refusing input from the Lantau community, the taskforce produced the Concept Plan for Lantau. Hong Kong had three months to respond to the concept plan – which allowed for suggestions so plans could be “fine-tuned”.
Fine-tuned! How arrogant! – as if the plan would be so near perfect that it might only need minor changes.
As you know, this was by no means the accepted view, as the concept plan came in for a host of criticisms. The three months proved elastic; and now there is a second round of consultations.
There should also be a revised Concept Plan by now – yet I have not had chance to see it, so this submission concerns the original Concept Plan. I consider this further support for my belief that the taskforce has little interest in views from outside government (and the companies of demigods).
Concept Plan Woeful in Many Respects
I submitted a response to the Concept Plan for Lantau, making several critical remarks.
Some of the criticisms concerned the overall plan. For instance, this failed to explain why focus on Lantau for the development plans. There were serious omissions, such as a possible LPG facility on the Sokos, plans for a container terminal off northwest Lantau. Explanations for these omissions seemed weak; the container terminal would seem dependent on the Zhuhai-Macau-Hong Kong Bridge.
The plan asserts that the aim is “to balance development and conservation needs”. This is clearly nonsense: The plan calls for significant environmental destruction - including on land and destruction of shallow coastal areas. Yet no creation of habitats is planned in mitigation. Hence, the plan is not balanced, but heavily weighted towards environmental destruction.
This means that, contrary to a key assertion, the concept plan is unsustainable. It doesn’t mention future generations.
The plan gives no choices – just one potential project per site. And it appears to have been drafted by a team with little knowledge of Lantau: how many project sites were chosen simply by looking at a map?
There were other criticisms, but rather than list them here I attach the Response to the Concept Plan as an appendix.
Views of Hong Kong Outdoors’ Members and Visitors
I should note that I am not merely giving my own views here; I am supported by Hong Kong Outdoors’ members and visitors. I requested comments on the concept plan; here is an edited selection:
How can people be so crazy as to want to destroy the natural beauty of Lantau Island? … Places like Lantau should be preserved as treasures for the future.
Of all the cities in Asia, only Hong Kong has such easily accessible and beautiful outdoor areas for hiking and other recreation. … Let’s keep Lantau natural for the highest value that cannot be replaced.
Can’t the gov’t be smarter instead of only following nearby cities … Wake up!
Forget such unnecessary projects! Preserve, promote and educate! Don’t destroy!
There are plenty more comments; attached here as an appendix.
Oh, and I’ve also received this comment:
It is a superb alternative to the current government plan, which I believe calls for unsustainable, ecologically destructive development.
This is from Dr James Lazell, director of the US based Conservation Agency – and he is referring to an alternative plan for Lantau I have drafted.
A Sustainable Development Plan for Lantau and Neighbouring Islands
After criticising the Concept Plan for Lantau, I later drafted a Sustainable Development Plan for Lantau and Neighbouring Islands, and submitted this to the Lantau Taskforce.
As this plan shows, I am not – as Selina Chow remarked to me – against all development simply because I am a “greenie”. Instead, I support development that will actually be sustainable, safeguarding and even enhancing the environment whilst delivering economic gains. There is strong emphasis on ecotourism; and the plan draws on other proposals, including ark~eden, and was drafted with help from several experts on Lantau.
I attach the plan as an appendix.
As Financial Secretary Henry Tang has said, “Lantau is Hong Kong’s biggest and most beautiful island”. It is surely among the loveliest islands in China; yet now, Lantau’s future is uncertain.
Hong Kong has made both sound environmental judgements – such as establishing the outstanding country parks system – and environmental blunders: like allowing much of the northwest New Territories to become a chaotic jumble of scrapyards, container parks and clusters of soul-destroying high-rises.
With Lantau, there is surely no real need to rush development – even though the Zhuhai-Macau-Hong Kong bridge is evidently being pushed through with unseemly haste.
Instead, it should be possible to ensure we get the planning process right, so options can be properly suggested and discussed, and a strategic vision developed that ensures truly sustainable development
– so that whilst Hong Kong continues to prosper, we ensure that for both current and future generations, we keep Lantau beautiful.
Dr Martin Williams
Director, Hong Kong Outdoors
[written on 15 November 2005]
There's more info on the Lantau plans, and responses to them, on government's site for the Lantau Development Task Force [URL defunct?].