Expensive, impractical, and unrealistic: these words neatly sum up the government’s HK$500 billion plan to build a 1,000-hectare artificial island east of Lantau.
While Henry Lui can claim, as he did in his Op-Ed article last week, that the project should be “applauded and not discouraged” because the government has decided to do something about the housing crisis, he has overlooked one crucial question – is the money being used wisely? In this case, I do not believe it is.
Early last month, Lam Chiu-ying, the former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, made a good point in SCMP. He said the project would be a disaster because of climate change. We are living in an age in which average sea levels have risen across the world. More than 70 per cent of Venice, in Italy, was flooded after a storm last week, for example. In September, the Kansai Airport in Osaka, Japan – built on an artificial island – was put out of action for 17 days by Typhoon Jebi.
There is also evidence indicating that island nations in the central Pacific Ocean, such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, will be underwater by 2050 or 2070.
James Shaw, New Zealand’s Minister for Climate Change, said last year that they would be looking into creating a new visa category to allow Pacific Islanders, displaced by climate change, to move to New Zealand.
In the past two years, Hong Kong has been hit by very strong typhoons like Hato and Mangkhut, and they were probably made worse by climate change.
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration have not told us how the new artificial island will deal with typhoons or rising sea levels. How can the public place their confidence in something that will be battered by typhoons every year, or potentially disappear beneath the waves?
A bigger problem remains, though.
When the island is ready in two (or three, or more) decades’ time, will Hong Kong’s population growth in that period have surpassed the current needs?
Currently, the one-way permit - a document issued by the mainland to its citizens allowing them to permanently settle in Hong Kong or Macau - gives us 150 new residents from the mainland every day. That’s roughly more than a million newcomers by the time the island is built – not including births.
Lam claims the island will house more than one million people, but that’s like trying to extinguish a raging fire with a single cup of water – it does little to fix a problem. It’s a long-term solution to a statistic that may become obsolete by the time the project is completed.
There are more effective, cheaper, and less controversial ways to resolve the housing crisis. One of them is better population planning. Reducing the number of new arrivals from the mainland will ease the demand for housing, in both the private and public sectors. We could also limit excessive spending on infrastructure projects, and use the money to fix other problems that have a greater impact on people, like cutting down the waiting times of patients in public hospitals, and improving rail services.