Titled, THE FUTURE OF LANTAU, a series of comments on the First-term work report of the Lantau Development Advisory Committee (LanDAC), by Clive Knoffke, who co-author of the publication Lantau – Hong Kong’s Jewel, A Biodiversity Study of Lantau. Clive has resided in Hong Kong for over 40 years, and is a chartered surveyor by profession.
- Lantau – Hong Kong’s Jewel was completed in 2014. As well as being freely available on digital platforms, letters were sent in November that year to some 19 senior officials in government with responsibility in some form or other, for the preservation of Lantau from inappropriate development. Notwithstanding, there is no evidence whatsoever that this has been heeded.
- For the huge numbers of Hong Kong people who love natural Lantau, the LanDAC proposals are very depressing indeed. This magnificent largely natural island is a place of peace and tranquility, of scenery which stretches the eye, of terrain which challenges us physically. Above all it is a place of escape from the increasingly frantic life of HK.
- The Lantau of LanDAC will be an engineered place, where natural attractions will be dumbed down to be made more accessible for mass tourism. Construction will take place in areas where only nature can now be observed. Natural Lantau will have to ‘pay its way’ in the overall scheme to develop new destinations for mass tourism. Nothing will be too remote not to receive the heavy hand of government concrete. The proposals are a veritable ‘kaleidoscope of development’. Conservation, which should be the first imperative, is not understood by LanDAC, except as a source of development-related projects.
- For those of us who championed the admission of Hong Kong to the international Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in May 2011, the complete failure of the LanDAC proposals to abide by the principles of the Convention is incomprehensible. What is the point in taking on the role of being a responsible global player and then ignoring ones responsibilities?
- For those of us who value due process and a fully participatory planning regime as is provided under HK legislation, the bypassing of such – yet again (the Lantau Concept Plan was earlier) -simply evidences the extent that top-down command planning has now usurped community or bottom-up planning. The effect is to disenfranchise the people of HK from deciding their future.
- For those of us who value competence and probity, the conduct of government in this process has been far from ideal. The LanDAC committee of 20 appointed members has much vested interest in Lantau (10 out of 20 members), and mainland connections (6 out of 20). Conservation proposals have been left in the hands of CEDD engineers. No civil servants with responsibility for conservation appear at the ‘consultations’ even when conservation is the only subject on the table. There is a palpable mistrust of the entire LanDAC exercise.
- It is not ‘necessary to strike a balance between the needs of economic development and conservation’. With a proper appreciation of the value of conservation it will be seen as the leading essential requirement for our future sustenance – both mental and physical.
- Before it is possible to ‘conserve the natural environment of Lantau’ it is necessary that the existing situation be understood. There is no evidence of any such understanding in the report. Had there been, there would be (a) no proposals to undertake more reclamation in areas of the endangered dolphin habitat – in defiance of CBD principles, (b) proposals tabled to extend formal planning and protection to the remaining unzoned areas of Lantau, (c) recognition and an action plan unveiled to eventually replace the unenforceable South Lantau Outline Zoning Plan, and (d) full recognition that increased road access leads directly to environmental degradation and hence NOT increasing private car access to South Lantau – to mention but a few.
- There is no evidence that Hong Kong people seek more and better access to and within Lantau. The contrary is readily evidenced by the huge numbers of families, hikers, bikers and swimmers who already descend on Lantau through the 2 access points of Tung Chung and Mui Wo. Lantau offers unique natural experiences, mountain and coastline vistas, stone trails, stream habitats, expansive sandy beaches, and health-giving exercise. HK needs this natural outlet for the physical and mental well-being of us all.
- “The island’s vast natural assets should be better utilized” (for tourism purposes) is a statement which evidences how little the true value of conservation is understood by LanDAC. It should be sufficient that HK preserves its natural places untouched by man for the eco-system services they offer. To exploit and thereby degrade in form or function, natural resources for the tourist dollar is as crass as it is short term.
- “Major developments at these (sites of conservation value) should be avoided wherever possible” sets out in very clear terms indeed that there will be man-made development at these natural sites, and that it may be expected to be highly intrusive at times. This is the antithesis of conservation!
- “Under the principle of sustainable development and biodiversity, these valuable resources should be suitably utilized for releasing their potential for education, recreation and green tourism”. This is absolutely not true, there is no should at all that natural places need to be so utilized, it is a choice made by LanDAC that such places will not be allowed to simply exist in nature, but that they have to be converted to justifying their existence. This is the mainland Chinese model of ‘conservation’ –to open natural treasures up to hordes of visitors until they are irreparably degraded – as China is now finding out to its cost.
- Reclamation of 650 ha for the 3rd runway, 150 ha for the HKBCF, 60 – 80 ha at Siu Ho Wan, 60 – 100 ha at Yam O. Reclamations that further reduce the habitat for the endangered Chinese white dolphin, our iconic 1997 handover species. Reclamations which are exactly what CBD principles should see us seeking to minimize not maximize.
- “Appropriate measures would be taken to enhance conservation” is neither evidenced nor supported in the paper. When the existing situation as regards conservation needs on Lantau has not been studied (see 8 above), it defies credibility that enhancements are contemplated, and the phrase is worse than empty.
It is proposed that the existing recognized sites of conservation, country parks and SSSIs “should continue to be preserved under the current conservation mechanism”. In point of fact SSSIs, the most valuable sites in terms of biodiversity, are not managed at all under existing mechanisms. That they survive at all is simply due to there being no competing use at present. If LanDAC was serious about enhancing protection, installing active management of SSSIs would be one place to start.
- It is stated in the report that “many people are calling for more diversified recreation and tourism facilities in Hong Kong,” places to go other than shopping, opportunities to get close to nature and relax at weekends. According LanDAC envisages to “shape Lantau into a kaleidoscopic recreation and tourism destination”. In short, Lantau is intended to be a large theme park. There is no evidence that a study has been done to assess and evaluate the totality what HK already offers in these aspects. If it was to be done it would doubtless show that HK offers many attractions other than shopping, in country parks, and recreation facilities all over HK. Instead of such due rigor, an unsubstantiated suggestion is made in order to support the conversion of natural Lantau into a mass tourism destination. Point 9 above is particularly relevant. HK people know and love Lantau as it is for what it currently offers. They do not want Lantau to be dumbed-down.
- “LanDAC and the local community both opined that the existing traffic and transport facilities of Lantau are still lagging behind”… and a comprehensive traffic and transportation network are the key components for taking forward Lantau development”. However, as may be seen from the massive local community objection to LanDAC pushing the opening up of South Lantau to more vehicles, the first statement is substantially inaccurate. However the latter statement is unfortunately true. As we have seen with the Frontier Closed Area, opening up to more traffic has led to increased development – more infilling of conservation land, more fly-tipping, more informal industry, more small house development – in short all the undesirable ‘development’ which Lantau has thus far been largely spared, and which has made Lantau the ‘jewel’ that it is. The statement is simply further evidence of the LanDAC intention to have Lantau turned into another quasi-urban area. Access = destruction.
- The proposal for an East Lantau Metropolis should not have progressed past a desk-top study. By any informed paper analysis, the idea would be seen as ill-judged from (almost) every perspective. (a) There will never be a demand for another Central Business District. By definition and world-wide observance there is only one ‘central’. Nor will HK need more satellite business districts – we already have Kln East (laughingly called “CBD 2”), Kln West, Quarry Bay, Wanchai/Causeway Bay, Wong Chuk Hang, Sheung Wan; (b) We do not need housing for 400-700 000 people. Any analysis of Census projections will show HK will over-supplied with domestic units at the estimated completion date of the ELM. Further, mixing residential and commercial development is a recipe for future economic obsolescence of the less land-use-intensive residential – as the history of Wanchai North amply illustrates. Mixed communities are a planners’ dream, but the reality is quite the opposite – Tuen Mun New Town is a classic example of such expectations being confounded.
- “Appropriate measures should be taken to enhance conservation” is a statement without foundation. As pointed out in point 8 above, there first needs to be an understanding of the situation on the ground. There is no evidence of any understanding of (a) the parlous situation of the Chinese White Dolphin, (b) the absence of formal zoning protection to much coastline and habitats,(c) the fact that the South Lantau OZP is unenforceable as regards Unauthorized Developments (UDs), and that Plan D has failed to deliver on the necessary amendments to Sec20(2) of the TPO to enable a DPA plan to be prepared, (d) that SSSIs are not protected from damage or degradation and the designation is almost useless as a conservation tool. Were there a desire to ‘enhance conservation’ there would be such recognition, and proposals to address the deficiencies – but there are none.
- Marine conservation will be strengthened if the proposals to finally set up the long-delayed marine parks are implemented. As these new parks are desperately needed to protect our residual marine heritage and should have been implemented years ago, to put them into a LanDAC paper is to infer a totally false impression that credit is due to LanDAC. In fact there are NO new initiatives to ‘enhance conservation’ from LanDAC.
Brief comments on locational proposals
- Yam O (aka Sunny Bay) was the site of log ponds for some generations and is therefore of cultural heritage value, and has a stunning natural coastline
- Mui Wo would be totally destroyed by the rail links and development envisaged in the ELM proposal
- Pui O is noted as having ‘rich ecological resources’, which will however are unlikely to survive the development proposed. Pui O is famous for its buffalo herd but instead of preserving and encouraging the free-ranging herds, a cattle enclosure is proposed.
- Tai Ho stream is our most important stream in terms of species, and is designated a SSSI. The purpose of a SSSI is for protection not amusement, and the proposed development of tourism facilities is the antithesis of conservation.
- Sunset Peak has existed with its 1930 era cottages for decades. It is easily accessible by walking – the excellent Lantau Trail is one route. It is an immensely peaceful and uplifting area. Into this LanDAC are proposing to insert a cable car and a star-gazing site for mass tourism, and a formed campsite. This will ensure full destruction of the attributes that make Sunset Peak so attractive to active HK citizens.
- Yi O should not have been included in the development proposals given the vested interest of a LanDAC member.
- Spa hotel proposals are not suitable for the Sokos, given the marine park intention. Fortunately economic realities which are (and should have been obvious to LanDAC) readily apparent, will ensure that this never eventuates.
- Lantau holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of HK people. Whilst HK is indeed evolving, the future of Lantau requires particular consideration, as once lost, those aspects which make Lantau special will never be recovered. The LanDAC proposals are an extreme proposal based on development, and not conservation. They should be seen for what they are – a proposal by the development lobby, and but one view on the future of Lantau.
- It follows that there should be a much wider process, which admits, at inception stage, the vision of other society groups and values.To propose as government is now doing, to immediately set up a Lantau Development Office to take forward the LanDAC proposals, is to negate even the pretense of public engagement in envisioning the future for Lantau
- It would wholly inappropriate and a permanent loss to HK if the deeply flawed LanDAC process and vision was to determine the future of Lantau.
Clive Noffke, Lantau April 2016