Majority of Hongkongers worried about cost of Lantau reclamation plan, survey finds

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Majority of Hongkongers worried about cost of Lantau reclamation plan, survey finds

Almost 60 per cent of respondents to a survey said they are worried that a government plan to create a massive artificial island in the waters around Hong Kong would exhaust the city’s fiscal reserve.

The survey, conducted by the pro-democratic Civic Party between October 16 and November 5, covered 3,236 respondents interviewed through random telephone calls.

The survey came as 38 economists jointly issued a statement in support of the reclamation proposal, dubbed the Lantau Tomorrow Vision by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address last month.

The economists argued that the government could recover the costs in building the 1,700-hectare island to the east of Lantau and even make a profit by selling land on the new island.

But lawmaker from the party Jeremy Tam Man-ho, releasing the survey findings on Tuesday, urged the government to explain whether it actually wanted to build the island to solve Hong Kong’s unaffordable and overcrowded housing as it had claimed, or to use the island as a tool to make money.

“The plan is like splashing out the fruit of several generations of Hongkongers’ hard work on an island that may or may not be submerged due to global warming and rising sea levels,” Tam said.

The survey showed that 58 per cent of the respondents were worried that the project, estimated by a government source to cost HK$500 billion – about half of the city’s fiscal reserve – could eventually use up all the fiscal reserve. About 21 per cent said they were not worried.

Researchers also found that 69 per cent of the respondents were concerned about continuous budget overruns.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam bulldozes ahead with Lantau Island reclamation idea…but at what cost?

Some 69 per cent of those interviewed said the government should first make use of existing land resources such as some 830 vacant government sites, 760 hectares of unplanned degraded agricultural land, and a 170-hectare golf course in Fanling, before thinking about large-scale reclamation.

But in the economists’ joint statement, they said the government could make HK$840 billion from selling some 40 million square feet of commercial space provided by the first phase of the reclamation, and some 120,000 private flats provided by the whole project.

Their estimation is based on the government charging developers HK$9,000 per square foot for commercial land, and HK$4 million for each private flat, lower than what was charged in recent land sales.

The project will also provide some 280,000 public-sector flats.

The economists envisioned that the island would create a new economic centre, which would bring

“significant” social and economic returns.

“We have to stand out and say that Lantau Tomorrow is not only affordable, but also an ideal investment,” the statement read.

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It was signed by scholars including the University of Hong Kong’s Professor Richard Wong Yue-chim, also an adviser to the influential think-tank Our Hong Kong Foundation set up by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

But Tam said if the purpose of the project was to make more money then “Hong Kong no longer needs to develop other economic sectors. We just need to reclaim all the sea around us and make money from selling new land.”

Tam said the project would only benefit those in the development and engineering sectors.

“The government needs to clarify for whom the island will be built,” he said.

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