The collective voice of thousands of residents who marched to oppose a controversial multibillion-dollar reclamation project earlier this month “do not represent Hong Kong”, an outspoken property tycoon said on Sunday.
And if the government kept acquiescing to “minority” opposition, the city’s future would be destined to decline, according to Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, founder and chairman of Hopewell Holdings, a major developer.
“In Hong Kong, the silent majority never say anything,” Wu said on a TVB programme on Sunday, shrugging off the October 14 rally’s larger than expected turnout. Organisers did not have a tally, but police put the figure at 5,800.
“Can a few thousand people represent all of Hong Kong? Can some granny in Cheung Chau who believes it is environmentally damaging claim to be an expert on environmental protection?”
Wu said the city’s biggest “challenge” was “learning to be democratic”, adding that many people believed that just because they had a right to be consulted, they had a right to veto or stop a project.
“Let’s say we get a Michelin-starred chef to come to Hong Kong and we’re all sitting down for dinner. There’s a consultation: some don’t want fish, some don’t like chicken. But do they come up with the menu?
“If you keep retreating when some people come out to protest, then Hong Kong’s future will go this way,” he explained, pointing his finger downwards.
The 82-year-old tycoon raised eyebrows last week by upping the ante on Hong Kong’s reclamation plans, proposing a 2,600-hectare artificial island east of Lantau Island and another measuring 445 hectares near Lamma.
This would be bigger than Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s “Lantau Tomorrow Vision”, which centres on building a new residential and business hub on 1,700 hectares of reclaimed land in roughly the same area to cater to 1.1 million people. She unveiled the blueprint in her policy address on October 10.
Critics argue that reclaiming such a large swathe of sea would end up a massive flood-prone white elephant costing taxpayers up to HK$1 trillion, while spelling disaster for the marine environment.
Despite official estimates that Hong Kong’s population would peak at 8.2 million by 2043, Wu said the city needed to conceptualise a long-term plan for at least 10 million inhabitants to drastically increase the amount of average per capita living space, which, at 170 sq ft, is one of the smallest in the world.
Without surplus land, he said, “your property prices will just keep getting more expensive. You are just benefiting the government and the property developers.”
Wu believed officials had the responsibility to furnish data and conduct studies such as environmental impact assessments. People could challenge them via judicial reviews if they saw fit.
Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of the Save Lantau Alliance, one of the march’s organisers, said the fact that so many people turned out for the march on just three days’ notice clearly reflected public opinion and pent-up grievances.
“It was spontaneous, and we did not mobilise anybody to come,” he added.
Several opinion surveys have also shown people did not agree that land reclamation was the best solution for solving the city’s housing crisis.
“As for what’s scientific, many professional consultancies are paid by developers to conduct studies and assessments,” Tse said.
“Wu himself has proposed reclaiming thousands of hectares around Hong Kong to sell for decades, so it is very clear where his interests stand.
“If the people or the inhabitants of these affected islands aren’t representative, can a small circle of property developers claim that they are?”