Lantau project a threat to environment

A prayer meeting for the creations at Tamar Park on September 18.

HONG KONG (SE): During a prayer service at Tamar Park, Admiralty, right by a beautiful Victoria Harbour on September 18, people expressed their concerns about the state of God’s creation of as well as the environment in Lantau, which is under threat by the proposed Lantau Tomorrow Vision project. 

The service was one of the events organised by the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students and other concerned groups to mark the Season of Creation being observed from September 1 to October 4. An eco-retreat in Peng Chau led by Franciscan Brother William Ng Wei-lit was also scheduled for September 22.

The proposed large-scale reclamation project in Lantau, which includes the construction of 1,700 hectares of artificial islands in the waters around Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau between Lantau and Hong Kong Island, was one of the proposals in the 2018 Policy Address of the chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. 

It is estimated that the scheme will cost at least $624 billion and the initial funding for the project will be one of the items to be scrutinised by the finance committee when the Legislative Council comes into session again in October.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing said that we should treat the mountains, the sea as well as all the living creatures as our brothers and sisters as God created them all. He stressed that environmental destruction once committed cannot be undone. 

“It is an outdated concept to prioritise the interests of people ahead of nature. They are interdependent. What is good for the nature is also good for people,” he said.

He also worried that any reclamation work around Lantau would only end up benefiting land developers selling luxury flats there, much as it was with the Cyberport project in Pokfulam.

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He urged the government to enact policies that truly benefit the welfare of the public and enhance human dignity, such as universal retirement protection and standard working hour legislation, instead of engaging in infrastructure projects that most people do not want.

The bishop said that, according to Catholic social teaching, unity in society should be achieved by mutual cooperation, which is why consultation for every government project is important. He reminded those present that the government had hastily started the initial planning of the Lantau project in the middle of last year, even though a five-month public consultation on the land supply in Hong Kong was still underway.

The bishop urged the government give some more consideration and have thorough consultations before its implementation. He recalled that the now-to-be-withdrawn extradition bill, was placed on the legislative the agenda of the legislature with just 20 days for consultation, which was too little time and triggered the present social unrest in Hong Kong. 

Gloria Chang Wan-ki, president of Greenpeace, urged government officials to look at the beauty of the environment first before pointing to an area on the map in their offices to propose a land reclamation.

She said there are in fact plenty of lower-cost options available to increase land supply, which were ignored, as the government was eager to start the Lantau project last year. For example, her group proposed the acquisition of brown field sites in the New Territories which, according to their estimates, would cost only around $33.3 billion, far less than that of building an artificial island.

She does not agree with the government that the areas to be reclaimed have low conservation value as they are the habitat for many endangered species, such as the white-bellied sea eagles and Bogadek’s Burrowing Lizards which live around Sunshine Island.

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Chang said artificial islands are also subject to the effects of climate change. She lamented that while other cities and countries, like Macau and Singapore, have started to make disaster prevention plans due to climate change, the Hong Kong government has no awareness of the risks concerned.

Teresa Yim, a participant, said that as a retiree and a hiking lover, nature is important to her. But when she walked along Pokfulam, she was upset to see the Cyberport, as its construction on reclaimed land destroyed a large part of the sea.

Alex Tam, another participant, said the government should make good use of the existing land first before doing any reclamation. For example, he believes it should first use the Lands Resumption Ordinance to take back private land for public use.

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