Hong Kong finance minister Paul Chan Mo-po has called on the public to take “a pragmatic and understanding attitude” towards reclamation and the development of new towns, which he said were key to easing the city’s land shortage.
Chan voiced support for the solutions in his weekly blog post on Sunday ahead of a ceremony he was due to attend on Monday to break ground on the Tung Chung New Town Extension.
The reclamation project, many years in the planning, is expected to yield space for 49,500 new flats.
Chan said there were more than 3.5 million people – about half of Hong Kong’s population – already living in so-called new towns developed outside the city centre from the 1970s to 90s, including Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin, Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung.
But he lamented that development had been stunted following events such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the deadly spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003.
“There have been no new towns completed since 2000,” he said. “This is one of the most profound reasons for the tight land supply we now have.”
Similarly, land reclamation also plunged in the period from 2000 to 2015, with only 690 hectares reclaimed compared with 3,000 from 1985 to 2000.
Reclamation has been a hotly contested topic in the city in recent years.
In November last year, the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply gave its approval for six sites recommended by the government to undergo reclamation. The sites included a plan to create a 1,000-hectare artificial island to the east of Lantau.
Task force committee members felt reclamation in these six places would have the smallest impact on the environment and would present the fewest “insurmountable difficulties” in terms of technology.
But the plans drew criticism from green groups who warned of destruction of the marine environment.
“I believe that as long as we can be determined and use a pragmatic and mutually understanding attitude, we can have success stories in land reclamation and new town development again,” Chan said.
“This will allow residents to live in peace and work contented, continuing a new chapter in Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.”
He also stressed that today’s reclamation technology was quite advanced and much better able to take care of surrounding ecological environments and communities.