Every country has its massive, nation-defining landmark or project that it pours billions of dollars into and advertises heavily. For example, China has the Three Gorges Dam, Switzerland has the Large Hadron Collider, and Dubai has the Burj Khalifa.
The Hong Kong government seems unhappy with its own version: the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. It would cost HK$83 billion and is due to be completed in December this year.
Local politicians have a vision for something much bigger: the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM). Under the development plan, the government hopes to reclaim 1,000 hectares of land around two existing islands in east Lantau. The proposed Central Business District (CBD) would accommodate between 400,000 and 700,000 people. And it would cost HK$400 billion – almost half of Hong Kong’s fiscal reserves, and almost five times the cost of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
Once we get past the initial nationalistic pride and excitement, we should all realise that this project is wholly unnecessary and wasteful.
There is no need for a third business district here, after Central and Kowloon. Several other sites, including Wong Chuk Hang, have been earmarked for development into CBDs, so there could be up to five CBDs in Hong Kong by the time the ELM is completed in the 2040s.
What’s more, the government is preparing to accommodate a population of nine million at a time when recent forecasts have been adjusted downwards. Current figures show Hong Kong’s population will peak at 8.2 million in the 2040s, before dropping back to under eight million. Why, then, are we reclaiming land to accommodate a surplus of one million? We have enough space – and proposed developments – to provide shelter for these people. The ELM simply doesn’t make sense.
Lantau has a 250 million-year-old ecosystem, with country parks covering more than 50 per cent of the island. It is also home to rare wild-life and plant species, some of which have not even been studied.
At a time when the call for democracy is louder than ever, we need get the people more involved in developments such as the ELM. Although the public consultation period has been extended until next month, not many people are still aware of the ELM, and its benefits and drawbacks.
The ELM will undoubtedly bring economic and tourism benefits, but the project must not go through because it would be costly for Hong Kong, both financially and environmentally.