Residents of Mui Wo on Lantau Island took to Silvermine Bay Beach on Sunday to protest land reclamation plans, saying that the project will damage the environment and line the pockets of developers.

Earlier this month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam unveiled an ambitious plan to reclaim 1,700 hectares of land around the city’s largest outlying island to form East Lantau Metropolis. The artificial island project, revealed in her 2018 policy address, promises to address the city’s pressing housing shortage over the next three decades and could accommodate 1.1 million people. 70 per cent of it will be reserved for public housing.

Photo: Save Lantau Alliance.

At 6am on Sunday, 17 Mui Wo residents gathered on the beach and held up a banner reading: “Oppose the East Lantau Metropolis plan.” A joint demonstration was also held the same day on Lamma Island and Sai Wan, in support of Mui Wo residents.

‘Destroy everything’

Tom Midgely, a Mui Wo resident and cafe owner, told HKFP that locals are concerned about the commercialisation of Lantau island following the project: “Small businesses [in Mui Wo] won’t survive the inevitable shopping centres who will only rent to chain stores.”

Lamma protest. Photo: Jo Wilson.

Midgely said that the environmental impact of the plan will devastate the island’s surrounding ecosystem, adding: “This whole project is driven by China’s desire to make Hong Kong just another city and destroy everything unique about our history, culture and land.”

Mui O residents protesting at Silvermine Bay Beach. Photo: Save Lantau Alliance.

Clara Tam, a third generation Mui Wo resident, told HKFP that she is was inspired to join the protest after learning about the government’s plan to increase the land reclamation from 1,000 to 1,700 hectares: “This new part would be right in front of [Mui Wo]. In the past 10 years, we’ve seen all these white elephant projects, like the Hong Kong-Macau bridge. I am very concerned about the environment and over-spending.”

Jo Wilson, a campaigner with community action group Living Lamma, said in a Facebook post that the project shows the government’s disregard for the environment: “It is not sustainable to keep destroying nature. Hong Kong has empty property. We already cannot cope with the waste we produce and our shores are devastated with plastic and polystyrene.”

‘Procedural injustice’

Debbie Chan, a campaigner with community action group Save Lantau Alliance, told HKFP that the government has failed to listen to members of the community: “For us, we focused on the procedural injustice. When they first introduced the project in 2014, they didn’t consult the Hong Kong people and this year, during the land supply consultation, they didn’t even wait for the answer before Carrie Lam pushed forward with the project.”

Chan added: “We can see that there is an obvious objection to the project and we’ve already sent a petition to Carrie Lam to show that there is an objection, but they mainly ignore it.”

Lamma residents protest. Photo: Jo Wilson, screenshot via Facebook.

Last month, the government completed a five-month public consultation, inviting citizens to express their preferences among 18 options to increase land supply. A concluding report is expected to be released by the end of the year.

Lamma residents protest. Photo: Jo Wilson, screenshot via Facebook.

According to police figures, 5,800 protesters led by the Save Lantau Alliance took to the streets to oppose the plans on Sunday, October 14.

There is no official figure for how much the reclamation project will cost – campaigners have put the figure at HK$800 billion, though local media has report costs of between HK$500bn to HK$1 trillion.

On Tuesday, Lam declined to give a specific cost estimate but reassured the public that “stringent” auditing procedures were in place to ensure that the government could afford the reclamation.

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.