A massive development project off Lantau Island could have “incalculable” ecological impacts, a Hong Kong research group has said after the estimated price tag for the proposed artificial islands ballooned to HK$580 billion.

Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands artist's impression
An artist’s impression of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project. Screenshot: Development Bureau.

Consequences of the development of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands could include coastal erosion and the destruction of marine habitats, Liber Research Community said on Tuesday.

The research group’s comments were issued in response to a recent paper published by the Development Bureau, which revealed details of the reclamation project.

A proposal for reclaiming land in Lantau’s eastern waters and creating a new urban centre was introduced by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying in 2014. His successor, Carrie Lam, turned the plan into one of her flagship policy schemes. Under Lam, it became known as Lantau Tomorrow Vision – and drew controversy.

An artist's impression of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands
An artist’s impression of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands. Screenshot: Development Bureau.

The Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project, as it is now called, was mentioned by John Lee in his maiden policy address as leader. When asked by reporters if the scale of reclamation would be the same as that proposed for Lantau Tomorrow Vision, Lee said that he would forge ahead with the project.

“Because of the urgency, we only focused on pushing forward the reclamation plan of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands at the Legislative Council,” Lee said.

‘Work-live-play CBD’

According to the Development Bureau paper, the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project centres on the creation of three islands adjacent to Peng Chau and in the waters off Discovery Bay on the eastern end of Lantau Island. The reclaimed islands would operate as a “work-live-play CBD,” or a central business district, with 210,000 residential flats – a mix of public and private – as well as offer employment opportunities.

The project would meet part of Hong Kong’s “medium to long-term land requirement,” the Development Bureau wrote.

Chan Kim-ching
Chan Kim-ching of the Liber Research Community. File photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The average water depth of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands development site is up to 10 metres, much more than similar projects that Hong Kong carried out in the past, Liber Research Community said.

Work is slated to start in 2025, with an aim of completion in 2033.

HK$580 billion price tag

While the projected cost of reclamation, essential infrastructure works such as water supply, sewerage and drainage systems and “strategic transportation infrastructure” was HK$500 billion per an September 2018 estimation, the price tag has since been revised upwards to HK$580 billion.

Expected revenue from sales of private residential and commercial land, however, has been adjusted downwards from up to HK$1.143 trillion to HK$750 billion.

The new figures were based on “recent adjustments on property market and land value,” the Development Bureau wrote.

Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands
The proposed Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project. Screenshot: Development Bureau.

Liber Research Group said Hong Kong has thousands of hectares of barren brownfields that could be used for development, and that Hong Kong “should not gamble on a project with such a hefty cost.”

The group said it would “not be absurd” to say the HK$580 billion was an underestimate.

Lawmaker Edward Lau of the pro-Beijing DAB party, however, told reporters he supported the proposal despite the revised figures.

“We do see that the difference between the cost and the revenue has decreased,” he said. “But there are still a few years until the reclamation [begins]. We should pay attention, and [we] hope the Development Bureau can update the figures in a timely manner [based on] clear project costs.”

Transport needs

Meanwhile, lawmaker Michael Tien said the rail link proposed as part of the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands plan disregarded the needs of residents in Tuen Mun, in turn favouring cross-border travellers moving between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

Michael Tien
Lawmaker Michael Tien. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Previously, the project included a rail link connecting Hong Kong Island with Kau Yi Chau with multiple stops in the populous district of Tuen Mun.

But the new plan sees the rail link with a single stop at Tuen Mun East and terminating at Hung Shui Kiu, where it could then link to the proposed Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Railway.

“[The government] is completely only serving cross-border travellers and the Northern Metropolis, and abandoning the 500,000 residents in Tuen Mun and those living along the coast,” Tien said.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.