Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended plans to reclaim land off Lantau Island for housing after a protest march on Sunday drew thousands onto the streets.
Lam told reporters on Tuesday that she was aware of the public’s response, and that her goal was to increase the city’s land supply and solve its housing shortage. She said there will be “stringent” auditing procedures to make sure the government can afford the reclamation, but declined to give a specific cost estimate.
“There is absolutely no conspiracy in this Lantau Tomorrow Vision, except to do good things for the people of Hong Kong,” Lam said.
Lam first unveiled the reclamation plan in her Policy Address last Wednesday, which promised artificial islands off the coast of Lantau totalling 1,700 hectares. The Save Lantau Alliance organised a protest march on Sunday with 5,800 participating, according to police figures.
Lam said on Tuesday that the plan was intended to cover the next 30 years, which meant research efforts could not wait until the land supply ran out. She added that the plan has taken into account environmental protection and sustainable development.
“The plan will be divided into different stages. The Development Bureau has suggested to me that we should first research the 1,000-hectare reclamation off Kau Yi Chau, before deciding on the final scale of the project,” Lam said.
“So, today, there is no need to be preoccupied with whether it will be 1,000 or 1,700 hectares, because the plan will be implemented in stages,” she added.
When asked about the online backlash against her plan, Lam said that she had become used to the “relatively radical” sentiments of internet commenters.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan said on Sunday that the costs of reclamation will be “substantial,” and that the Hong Kong government will consider issuing bonds to the public as a means to raise funds. Local media have reported rumoured price tags of HK$500bn to HK$1 trillion.
Lam on Tuesday appeared to walk back Chan’s comments, saying that it was too early to discuss raising capital for the project: “Before there is a detailed study… there is not much point in stating a number today.”
Lam added that she had seven years’ experience dealing with the treasury, and that infrastructure projects would not go ahead if they failed internal assessments on affordability.