CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Proposed Lantau reclamation a big mistake group warns

HONG KONG (SE): Father Anthony Chang Sang-loi, president of the Messengers of Green Consciousness, urged the laypeople, sisters and priests not to be misled by claims by government officials that there is a need to increase the land supply through the Lantau reclamation project. He warned that the project will cause harm to future generations and will be a big mistake.
 
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, announced a massive reclamation project in her policy address on October 10. She said developing Lantau and its surrounding areas could add 1,700 hectares for a new metropolis and homes for 1.1 million people. Her proposal came before the public consultation on land use, held from April to September, was expected to release its own report. 
 
As many as 6,000 people took to the streets to oppose the plan four days later on October 14, even though government officials expressed different views in support of Lam’s proposal.
 
In articles published in Kung Kao Po on October 21 and November 4, Father Chang stressed that there is adequate supply of land for housing and there is no need to risk destroying the natural environment by land reclamation.
 
Father Chang said land reclamation is not suitable in the present era when natural disasters are expected to get worse and happen more frequently due to global warming. He said the Super Typhoon Mangkhut, which resulted in extensive damage to the city and large-scale flooding in September this year, is only the first sign of the trend. He warned that land reclamation would be a big mistake and will bring harm to future generations.
 
He quoted a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, issued on October 8, which says that we have to prevent a catastrophe on the earth by substantially reducing the release of carbon dioxide before 2030, otherwise the average temperature will rise by 1.5 degrees by 2052 at the latest, leading to major disasters everywhere.
 
Father Chang said that increasing the supply of land by reclamation is an outdated method as it will destroy the natural environment and worsen global warming. He pointed out that even the Chinese government had begun strengthening the monitoring of reclamation projects since 2017 and came up with measures to make up for their previous destruction of the ecosystem by setting up a task force in 2018. 
 
Father Chang pointed out that there are, in fact, five sources of land which the government could make use of but has lacked the will to develop. 
 
The first are private recreation areas, such as the Fanling Golf Club, which can provide 172 hectares of land—the same area as Tsuen Wan city centre—while golf lovers can use the services of other golf clubs in Hong Kong.  The government can also consider other private recreation areas in Happy Valley, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Jordan Road, which can be taken back with proper arrangements.
 
Father Chang pointed to brownfield sites in the New Territories as second source presently occupied by selfish people who used them as storage spaces. He lamented that the government has ignored the development of such areas. 
 
The priest said the farmlands bought up by the private sector for speculation account for as many as 1,000 hectares in total. He said if the government retrieved part of the land to build public housing by using the Land Resumption Ordinance, the shortage of housing could be relieved to some extent.
 
The fourth source is the vacant sites held by the government itself. Some are now used as car parks, while others have languished and been left vacant for 10 or 20 years. Father Chang said the land could be used to build transition homes for people living in subdivided flats who are waiting for public housing.
 
The fifth source is the 900 hectares of land reserved under the New Territories small house policy, which gives the right to indigenous male inhabitants over 18-years-old to build houses. 
 
Father Chang said it is unfair that many people cannot live in public housing after waiting for five to 10 years, while the indigenous people have a chance to live in a spacious house or even get rich quick by taking advantage of the outdated law.
 
Father Chang hopes that people will understand that there is enough land in Hong Kong. He said the Messengers of Green Consciousness would be glad to hold talks in parishes and organisations to look into the housing problem in Hong Kong if necessary, which is the focus of the group in the coming two years.

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