The conservation of Hong Kong’s natural environment can “coexist” with development, the city’s development minister has said in a blog post discussing the “sustainable development” of Lantau Island. However, an urban planning specialist has expressed concerns over proposed road improvement works on the island.

In a blog post published on Sunday, Secretary for Development Bernadette Lin wrote about the “sustainable development” of Lantau Island, according to the principle of “development in the north, conservation in the south.”

Lantau buffalo
Lantau buffalo. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“Some people may think that promoting conservation is to protect the natural environment and not to touch anything. But actually, conservation and development can coexist,” Lin wrote.

At present, about 70 per cent of Lantau – the largest island in Hong Kong with a population of almost 200,000 – has been designated as country park, according to a government document. Lin wrote that the island “has a unique environment and is rich in natural and cultural resources.”

To better connect the north of the island – home to Tung Chung town and the airport – with its less developed south, Lin said the Sustainable Lantau Office has launched a feasibility study to explore improving transport infrastructure. It incudes the possibility of reusing Old Tung Chung Road. The study is expected to be completed by mid-2025, Lin wrote.

The government will also widen some sections of roads and carry out improvement works on South Lantau Road, Nang Shan Road and Tai O Road.

Paul Zimmerman
Paul Zimmerman. File photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Speaking on an RTHK radio programme on Monday morning, Southern District Councillor and CEO of NGO Designing Hong Kong, Paul Zimmerman, said that “it’s not a bad idea to look at the road network in Lantau… because there are parts of it that are difficult to navigate for buses and traffic between Tung Chung Road and Tai O.”

However, Zimmerman said: “We have to keep in mind that, if you’re going to touch that road, it’s going to impact the slopes… any work that’s going to be undertaken will probably have a significant impact on the vegetation around it, and that’s a real concern.”

The urban planning advocate brought up road improvement works currently underway at Hiram’s Highway near Sai Kung, saying, “everybody can see how horrible that is, the design features are coarse, what was originally quite a nice and pleasant road has now become a highway.”

Regarding any such works on Lantau, Zimmerman said what “it really comes down to is, can they do this in a nice and pleasant way – can they make sure that the road remains scenic, that we’re not going to have large noise barriers, a lack of planting and so on. So I think that is a real concern, and we haven’t seen a real commitment to that.”

hiking country park Sunset Peak, Lantau
Sunset Peak, Lantau. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint, a planning vision laid out in 2017, positioned Lantau as “Hong Kong’s international and regional gateway to the world and the Greater Pearl River Delta.”

The East Lantau Metropolis – which evolved into the controversial Lantau Tomorrow Vision scheme and is now known as the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands Project – was part of that plan. The major reclamation and development project, expected to cost at least HK$580 billion, has been slammed by green groups, with one saying it could have “incalculable” ecological impacts.

Researchers have also argued that an emigration wave and the city’s falling birth rate leave little necessity for such plans. The Development Bureau has said the artificial islands would meet part of Hong Kong’s “medium to long-term land requirement.”

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Mercedes Hutton

Mercedes is a Hong Kong-based British journalist with an interest in environmental and social issues. She has written for the Guardian and the BBC and previously worked at the South China Morning Post.