Economic angle surfaces in defense of islands push

Economic activity on a cluster of artificial islands to be reclaimed under the Lantau Tomorrow Vision development initiative will bring in an added value of HK$200 billion per year for the city, said Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn Hon-ho.

In a blog posted yesterday, Linn said the Development Bureau will refine the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands project and meet with bankers to explore further financing options for its construction.

The remarks came less than a month after authorities revealed in a paper to the Legislative Council a proposal for the large-scale reclamation project, which drew the ire of think tanks and lawmakers for underestimating the costs of the project and neglecting the islands' connectivity with the rest of the city.

In the Legco paper, authorities said the construction cost for the project had risen to HK$580 billion from HK$500 billion, while projected revenue from land sales had been cut by nearly HK$400 billion from HK$1.14 trillion to HK$750 billion.

But upon full development of the islands, targeted for 2033, Linn said, economic activity there would generate some HK$200 billion added value annually, which is equivalent to 7 percent of Hong Kong's gross domestic product.

The Kau Yi Chau artificial islands will be home to a third business district after Central and Kowloon East, providing a total of about five million square meters of commercial gross floor area and creating 270,000 jobs, she added.

"When my colleagues and I briefed the Legislative Council on the progress of the project, a number of members spoke in support of the project," Linn said, adding that authorities are aware of the toll the project might have on the government's financial and human resources.

The islands will also contribute up to 210,000 residential flats to ongoing efforts to alleviate the city's housing crunch.

"I am hopeful that the three islands will create a new generation of living and economic areas for Hong Kong, bringing happiness to the public and driving the momentum of Hong Kong's development," she wrote.

Linn also said the government may draw from public expenditure to finance infrastructure projects, in addition to other options.

"We have also made it clear that we do not need to rely entirely on public funds to deliver the project, and that the project will generate revenue from land sales for the government," she said.

The authorities, Linn added, have invited professional associations to join a consultation platform.

Among those being consulted are the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design and the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects.

Authorities will work with the institutes to refine the reclamation project and planning for the islands.

"The team and I are looking forward to the project, and we will continue to work with stakeholders to improve the development plan and implement the project at full speed," she wrote.