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Creating islands no answer to lack of land, critics say

South China Morning Post – 5 Jan. 2012

Offshore sites for housing seen as wasteful and environmentally unsound

Building artificial islands for housing off the coasts of Hong Kong would be a major waste of resources and could threaten marine life, several experts said.

The government has floated the idea of building man-made islands to increase land supply, and the proposal is in the early stages of discussion.

Greg Wong Chak-yan, a veteran civil engineer and former vice-chairman of the Town Planning Board, said that while such a venture was feasible, it was not necessary at the present time. “Artificial islands are feasible in engineering terms, but many people might ask why we must have these reclamations. Will some people become shelterless if we don’t create land from the sea?”

Wong said it would make more sense to move unpopular facilities like prisons to artificial islands rather than build new homes on them.

Dr Ng Cho-nam, a member of the Transport Advisory Committee who teaches geography at the University of Hong Kong, said the proposal served little purpose as there was still plenty of undeveloped land in the New Territories.

He said: “How could these [artificial] islands attract development, especially when there is still lots of land in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun for use?”

This sentiment was shared by Winston Chu Ka-sun, an adviser to the Society for Protection of the Harbour. He said the solution to the city’s housing shortage was developing more land in the New Territories. Construction on reclaimed land would be too costly, he said.

There are also environmental concerns in building man-made islands, according to groups such as the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society and WWF Hong Kong.

Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the society, called the idea ridiculous and said it would put marine creatures at risk.

Samantha Lee, from WWF, noted there were rich coral resources near Po Toi Island, while Tolo Harbour was a vital breeding ground for animals. “We do not oppose all reclamation but some sensitive sites have to be avoided,” she said.

Green Sense president Roy Tam Hoi-pong, meanwhile, said instead of providing unlimited land supply to support population growth, “the real challenge is capping the population”.

He said luxury housing on artificial islands might be aimed more at rich mainlanders rather than locals.

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