CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 July 2019

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Bishop calls for public consultation on Lantau Tomorrow Vision proposition

HONG KONG (SE): In a forum looking at the Lantau Tomorrow Vision reclamation project proposed by the Hong Kong government, Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, urged the government to make public welfare the top priority and undertake a thorough consultation with the people of Hong Kong before carrying out the development project.
 
According to the government, the ambitious project aims to build a new metropolis to the west of Hong Kong Island and will be the most expensive infrastructure undertaking in the city’s history at an estimated cost of $624 billion.
 
The forum, held at St. Andrew’s parish, Hang Hau, on March 31, was jointly organised by the Justice and Peace Commission and the social concern group of the parish. Bishop Ha examined at the role of the government in the project from the Church’s point of view. He said a public consultation was not thoroughly done, which is against Catholic social teaching. 
 
The government announced in February that it would begin planning the first stage of the Lantau Tomorrow Vision project, which will involve the construction of 1,000 hectares of artificial islands around Kau Yi Chau, near-shore reclamation and part of the transport network. 
 
With the addition of land reclamation at Hei Ling Chau, off the eastern waters of Lantau Island, as well as areas off Tuen Mun, Sunny Bay and other places, the undertaking aims to create a third core business district with a total area of about 1,700 hectares. 
 
Bishop Ha pointed out that the government is going ahead with the project based solely on the proposal of Town Planning Department and has failed to obtain the participation of the public. 
 
He worried that it would cause a lot of problems and opposition, and stressed that public welfare should be given top priority in a development project and that its impact on the next generations should not be overlooked.
 
Legislator, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, said that the government underestimated the cost of the project as it was calculated based on prices from last September, while the actual reclamation work will begin in 2025 and will last as long as 20 years. He said that taking inflation into account, the project could cost up to a trillion dollars instead of $642 billion. 
 
Chu said the massive reclamation will surely destroy the ecosystem. The mining of the huge amount of sea sand will also create environmental hazards. Furthermore, the infrastructure involved in the project is also subject to the risk of being affected by natural disasters due to global warming.
 
He believes the impact of building artificial islands needs to be discussed. Quoting the report of the Task Force on Land Supply released in December, he argued that the development of brown fields in the New Territories was an option supported by the general public. 
 
“The government owes the public an explanation as to why East Lantau is the best place to develop, while other options are being ignored,” Chu said.
 
Shih Wing-ching, founder of Centaline Property Agency Limited, begged to differ with Chu claiming that is the most effective way to make large-scale construction possible in order to address the pressing need for housing, considering there are over 200,000 people living in subdivided flats in Hong Kong at present and that the average waiting time for public housing is over five years.
 
He added that external investors, who favour properties in Hong Kong, have created strong demand and pushed housing prices up to a level ordinary Hong Kong people cannot afford. He said there should be a property scheme to help people who need just a place to live.
 
Lina Chan Lai-na, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission, told the Kung Kao Po weekly that she hopes the forum can help people to think about the social justice issues concerning land use. 
 
The Justice and Peace Commission, together with other Christian groups, have issued a leaflet about the impact of urban planning on the environment, land use and climate change.

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