It is not often that a government press event has me rolling on the floor laughing. So I would like to thank Secretary for Development Michael Wong for his priceless performance on the Lantau Vision thing.

Reclamation for the first new island, he said, would begin in 2025. The first residents “may” move in by 2032. That allows seven years for the lot: the whole transition from placid patch of sea to completed public housing estate.

I am reminded of the United States Senator who greeted a particularly rosy official forecast by asking if he was expected to believe in the tooth fairy as well.

Secretary for Development Michael Wong
Secretary for Development Michael Wong (second from right). Photo: GovHK.

Let us look at our government’s record as a user of a large piece of reclaimed land. In 1998 the Kai Tak airport closed, leaving some 300 hectares free for new uses. If Mr Wong had been in charge the first tenants “might” have been moving into the resultant new housing in 2005. He wasn’t.

In fact, so far, two public housing estates have materialised. In both, according to the government website, the first tenants moved in in 2013. That’s 15 years after the government inherited a piece of land already reclaimed.

The rest of the Kai Tak site contains two completed projects – a new office block for the Trade and Industry people and the famous Cruise Terminal. These take up very little of the space, of course. The rest is at various stages in the progression from “temporary” outdoor par park through building site to completed project.

The new Kai Tak MTR station looks almost finished from a distance. As it is completely surrounded by construction deserts of various kinds I suppose the corporation must regard not having to operate it yet as the sunny side of the delays to the Shatin to Central link.

Kai Tak MTR station
Kai Tak MTR station. Photo: Facebook/Michael Luk.

In the light of the lamentable performance on the Kai Tak site, it appears that even if the Lantau Vision reclamation starts in 2025 the first residents might move in about … oh … 2040? This is a very long-range project. Do we detect a hint of hubris in the assumption that the government has the faintest idea what Hong Kong, or indeed the world, will be like by then?

I notice also that roads will be installed by the time the residents move in – so thoughtful! – but the railways “might not run until three or five years later”. Come, Sir, do not be so constipated in your imaginings. If the railways follow recent precedents they might not run until ten years later, if at all.

I fear the government is going to repeat the mistake made in turn in Shatin, Tsing Yi, Tseung Kwan O, and Tin Shui Wai at different times. In each case residents were moved in when the only public amenity was one of those bus stops KMB makes by sticking a pole in a recycled wheel. Epic tales of misery and tedium ensued.

There will be roads. Will there be markets, parks, teahouses, malls, cinemas, a Town Hall, even perhaps the odd dai pai dong? Or will all these things have to wait while the new estate is filled with public housing applicants who cannot refuse an offer without losing their place in the queue?

Well I still think the whole thing will be ripe for cancellation at some future date “in the light of changing circumstances”. After all the price has already zoomed from “about HK$500 billion”, (nameless source explaining the budget) to HK$624 billion (Mr Wong’s latest estimate). If it eventually reaches HK$1 trillion (educated guess from Chu Hoi-dick) it will have done no worse than the Express Rail did, though on a larger scale.

But we are surely not that stupid. It’s not the Lantau Vision. It’s the Lantau Mirage, shimmering in the distance as we slog through the desert. Don’t drink too much of your water.

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.