Hong Kong protesters decry plans for artificial islands

Demonstrators chanted “We don’t want white elephants!” as they took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday against the government’s plan to build larges swathes of new housing on artificial islands.

Nearly 6,000 people turned out in opposition to the proposal for new residential property that could accommodate 1.1 million people in the coming years.

Despite an acute shortage of affordable housing in the notoriously-crowded Chinese territory, some protesters labeled the scheme “outright robbery” due to the huge cost to the public purse.

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Ambitious and costly

A government source told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper the cost of reclaiming 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) of land and building new housing blocks could reach HK$500 billion (US$64 billion), although some campaigners think it could be much higher.

SCMP said the amount was about half of Hong Kong’s fiscal reserves.

One protester, Mr Chan, complained that the Hong Kong government could easily take back some of the vast land banks held by developers and build new flats on existing land.

“There are many ways to find land in Hong Kong, but (the authorities) don’t want to cross the property developers,” he said.

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Another protester, Lam Mei-yee, complained that the government would effectively weaken the Chinese territory’s finances to backstop the huge project.

“First, there’s the environment. Second, they are effectively raiding the public coffers. You’re reclaiming all this land but no one can guarantee these flats will ever see the light of day.”

Environmental concerns

Environmental campaigners have warned that marine life — including Lantau’s famous Chinese white dolphins, whose numbers have plunged due to recent construction and reclamations, would be harmed by the project.

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Hong Kong has one of the least affordable real estate markets on the planet, which has left those average and low incomes struggling to buy or rent decent homes.

The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, insisted that 70 percent of the new properties on the reclaimed land would be reserved for public housing.

City officials are promoting the future metropolis of Lantau, which is linked to the mainland with a mega-bridge, as a gateway to the world and to neighboring Chinese cities.

Hong Kong’s international airport — also partially built on reclaimed land — is located just off Lantau.

Infrastructure projects cause anger

The government, however, has faced similar resistance to its new high-speed rail link to the mainland and the soon-to-be-opened bridge connecting Hong Kong with Macau and Zhuhai.

While supporters believe the multi-billion-dollar projects will boost business, others claim they are politically driven and will blur the boundaries between Hong Kong and the mainland, as Beijing tightens its grip over the semi-autonomous city.

mm/rc (AFP, SCMP)

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