Hong Kong is planning to extend its surface area by hundreds of hectares in a new round of land reclamation that would provide homes and land space for millions more people.
Authorities in the former British colony have drawn up plans to create a series of islands and waterfront extensions by dumping concrete and other construction waste into the sea.
Thousands have signed petitions against the plans. Experts on population, environment, urban design and sustainability say that instead of creating new lifestyles for residents, the plans allow Hong Kong’s government to save the cost of shipping waste to China and garner huge profits from land sales.
“They are trying to kill two birds with one profitable stone,” said Ruy Barretto, a barrister who lives in Tolo Harbour, which was earmarked for one of the land reclamation projects.
The WWF said the environmental cost was too high. Among the sites, Po Toi Island is home to Romer’s tree frog; Hei Ling Chau Island is home to a special burrowing lizard and the waters around Beaufort Island support more than 30 species of coral. Porpoises, mangroves and spawning grounds for fish would be put at risk.
A total of 25 locations are shortlisted for land reclamation. Authorities say the project is necessary in one of the planet’s most densely populated places. They are also considering land for a third runway at the international airport.
The government’s civil engineering and development department (CEDD) said it was merely seeking public opinion on the best way to meet development needs. It issued a brochure suggesting that land could be created at 25 locations outside Hong Kong’s central harbor area, which is protected from development. Responses are being analyzed with a view to shortening the list of 25 sites to 10.
However, experts say that the department’s assumptions are wrong, its reasoning faulty and the process flawed.
CEDD says, for instance, that Hong Kong’s population of 6.9 million will reach 8.9 million by 2039.
“I don’t believe it,” said Paul Yip (葉兆輝), Hong Kong’s top demographer, from the University of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world and a rapidly ageing population. The daily quota of 150 migrants from China is rarely filled. Without a massive immigration program it is hard to see how it could produce such significant population growth.
As for the need for new land, Hong Kong’s government has admitted that 200,000 apartments are currently standing empty and more than 5,000 hectares of other land have also been identified for rezoning.
“Reclamation should be the last resort,” said Roy Tam Hoi-pong (譚凱邦), chairman of the environmental pressure group Green Sense.
The Hong Kong Institute of Planners said reclamation “at an appropriate scale and level of overall sustainability is a possible option,” but warned that study of a large number of criteria was necessary.
“The identification of 25 sites, prematurely released and belatedly presented, is confusing ... ‘island’ sites in particular are extremely unlikely to be viable,” it said in a submission to the government.
Government sources said that CEDD’s plan surprised policy units usually involved in important planning processes. A 2007 government study called Hong Kong 2030 stressed the need for a more sustainable quality of life and warned against rampant reclamation.