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HK development must ensure protection of environment

By Bill Condon | China Daily HK | Updated: 2019-08-23 10:32


Development and progress almost always come at a price, but it is important from the perspective of a broad cross-section of society that the benefits outweigh the costs over the medium to long term. It is becoming increasingly important that urban development minimizes the environmental impact or, at the very least, strategies are adopted and implemented to rectify damage so that future generations can enjoy and benefit from the progress made.

If we take Tung Chung New Town Extension as an example of urban progress, we need to look at how the area has undergone a dramatic change in a little over 25 years. The area has transformed from a rural fishing village into a vibrant urban development with almost 100,000 people currently living there. Plans are underway to expand that number of residents to 280,000 in the next 10 years as part of the Tung Chung New Town Extension.

The ultimate vision is to create a smart, low-carbon, urban community by creating a pedestrian-friendly living environment utilizing the existing green space and revitalizing the waterfront for recreational use. Twenty-seven hectares of land have been allocated for the purpose in the approved Outline Zoning Plan.

From the perspective of housing, there is a good mix of private and public housing, with a number of large public and private projects recently completed and a number in the planning and development phase. The combined housing target is a further 50,000 units. The developments are spread across a spacious stretch on the north side of Lantau Island. Both public and private housing have been developed in clusters of connecting estates, with each offering retail and community amenities. These estates are spawning a plethora of new small businesses, which in turn are providing much-needed additional local employment at the grassroots level, ranging from small grocery shops and restaurants to tailors and car repairers plus a range of ancillary services. Diversified and vibrant communities are emerging as a result.

There are kindergartens, primary and secondary schools servicing the area. The area has a wide range of amenities, from a modern swimming pool complex to public library facilities and a number of play areas for children. The North Lantau Hospital provides a 24-hour accident and emergency department and outpatient services. The redevelopment of Citygate is almost complete, and will shortly provide a state-of-the-art 650-seat cinema, many more restaurant choices, and an improved retail experience. Close proximity to the airport and to the Disneyland Resort enhances the area's attraction.

Current connectivity to the town center, which is dominated by Citygate, the MTR, the bus terminals and the cable car, is effective and serviced primarily by buses, taxis and of course an increasing number of private cars. Covered walkways connect a number of residential areas. There is a reasonable network of bicycle lanes incorporated into the system, and on weekends, many cyclists from around Hong Kong converge on Tung Chung as the starting point of their Lantau Island leisure activities. A further 10 kilometers of cycle tracks connecting most of the planned residential facilities to community, educational and commercial areas have been incorporated into the plans of the Tung Chung East extension. At the moment, there is also regular ferry service running from Tung Chung to Tuen Mun on one side and then servicing the indigenous inhabitants of Sha Lo Wan en route to Tai O — spots that are particularly popular with hikers and sightseers.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge has had an impact on the area with the increasing number of visitors very visible. There was a level of unpreparedness at the outset, but that seems to have been rectified, and the retail and associated sectors around Tung Chung are thriving as a result of additional visitors.

The increased pressure on the road system, particularly some of the smaller arteries, is apparent and is cause for concern, but it is an inevitable result of the development. However, herein lies a great opportunity to improve the local road network to meet demand and ensure smooth traffic flow and easy movement of people. This can range from creating new road arteries to improving traffic flow or installing footpaths to enable the safe movement of pedestrians on the outskirts or surrounding villages. Eventually, the addition to the MTR system of the Tung Chung East and the Tung Chung West stations will dramatically improve connectivity and the commuter experience, and also alleviate some of the traffic issues. Parking violations are a consistent problem and are primarily caused by construction and commercial vehicles. This is an issue that is not being addressed, but one that can be very easily rectified.

The long-term plans for Tung Chung are ambitious, and the ability of planners to deliver a low-carbon, pedestrian-friendly living environment will become an important aspect of Hong Kong's continued development. Most residents have chosen the location because of the quality of life on offer, and its convenience and connectivity. Planners have a responsibility to make every effort to maintain that quality of life and minimize the disruption caused by the next phase of development, which will ultimately be judged against other locations in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Singapore and other locations in the region.

The author is chairman of the Multitude Foundation.

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