For most of us, Lantau Island means one of two things: weekend mini-getaways in Discovery Bay or the airport. But for the 100,000-plus residents, it’s considered home, be it at the quickly developed Tung Chung area, DB or any of the peaceful green pockets that dot the island — Mui Wo, Pui O, Tai O and Luk Keng among others. It’s an end-user location as far as real estate goes, or at least it has been traditionally. However, things are set to change drastically on Lantau if the government has its way.
Lantau is already crowded with leisure and tourist attractions. It is, after all, the site of Hong Kong Disneyland, the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, the historic Tai O fishing village, the famed Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha), the Lantau Trail for hikers and for those uniquely Hong Kong tourists, the shopping of Citygate Outlets at Tung Chung. Residents, for the most part, live on Lantau precisely because of the balance between urban and rural, the relatively low-density population and the knowledge that most conveniences are within easy reach. Schools are clustered around Tung Chung and the new North Lantau Hospital began opening in phases in late 2013. The hospital was built to respond to resident demand, which looks set to increase further.
With both residential and office space in short supply and demand for neither slowing down and the city on an aggressive tourism kick, Lantau has been targeted as the next great district project. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is scheduled to be ready in 2016, which has inspired massive and sweeping plans for Lantau. Among those are transport infrastructure upgrades, including new MTR stations and road support for the bridge, additional housing and commercial spaces at Tung Chung and reclamation of up to 2,400 hectares of land.
Of all this activity, an unnamed spokesperson for the Lantau Development Advisory Committee explains, “The overall planning of Lantau aims to meet the medium and long-term economic and social development needs of Hong Kong, while benefitting the local community, and preserving and enhancing where appropriate the nature and heritage conservation assets of Lantau. The vision of developing a core business district (CBD) as part of a potential East Lantau Metropolis in the central waters between Lantau and Hong Kong Island is to create a liveable and balanced new town housing, [a] substantial population while providing ample employment opportunities, sustaining the long-term development of Hong Kong.” Extending the Tung Chung New Town will result in up to 53,000 new flats, with commercial land use still to be determined. Mui Wo has been tapped as the site for new HOS development.
But some residents claim that the rush to develop Lantau is reckless and poses as a threat to the island’s rich ecology. “The East Lantau Metropolis … will compromise Hong Kong’s historic heritage. The proposed [North Lantau-Mui Wo link] runs along the Islands Nature Heritage Trail and will devastate villages of deep historical significance, such as Pak Mong, Pak Ngan Heung, Tai Ho and Tin Liu,” states Dr Merrin Pearse, chair of Living Islands Movement. He’s not alone. Green groups such as Plastic Free Seas and Ark Eden Lantau are also concerned about what they see as exploitation of the island for almighty tourist dollars. No one is arguing against much needed housing, just the cost of it.
The LDAC claims full environmental assessments have been or will be carried out. Of Mui Wo, the LDAC spokesperson also states, “The ecological value of the area is generally not considered to be high,” and recognises consideration of rare marine species, chiefly the Chinese white dolphin, is needed. “Mitigating measures to minimise impact on ecology during construction of the HZMB local projects include using non-dredging methods for reclamation and seawall construction, prohibiting underwater percussive piling, limiting speed of construction marine vessels, setting up CWD exclusion zone, carrying out monitoring of CWD during construction and designation of marine park after completion of the projects.” But Pearse and others argue that it’s already too late given the fact that the airport and the bridge have already done irrevocable damage.
Even with an environmental scrum brewing, Lantau has its fans. Alice Leung of Findley Leung Properties on the island stresses that both investors and end-users purchase there, and most have come to adore its charms. Houses can be found on Lantau and it’s a popular option for investment until the time comes to retire. Lantau’s prices and rents are also as stable as Hong Kong’s are varied. “Rental rates and prices are stable at the moment. They went up a lot over the past two years. Prices for apartments at Mui Wo ferry pier range from $7,000 to $9,000 per saleable square foot, village houses range from $3,500 to $6,500 per square foot, and villa types are from $9,500 to $12,000 per square foot,” says Leung. Rentals range from $18 to $35 per square foot depending on the property.
The kind of impact the development will have on Lantau as a sub-market remains to be seen. Most of the work is years away (if it happens at all) and whether the crowded skyline and streets reduce the island’s appeal for home purchasers is anybody’s guess. “Yes, people move here because it’s low density and quite green, but I can’t see the HOS housing and the proposed development hurting Lantau’s appeal. It could also increase Lantau’s appeal [for] some investors,” theorises Leung. “The only thing that could hurt Lantau’s appeal is the incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau. Some investors and end-users worry about the quality of the air and the beach in Lantau in the future.”