Some similarities between the two places.
Last October, Hong Kong revealed plans to reclaim 4,200 acres to create artificial islands off the east coast of Lantau.
Penang too wants to reclaim 4,500 acres of the southern coast of the island to create three artificial islands.
The Hong Kong government says its reclamation can create “smart, green and resilient development”.
The National Physical Planning Council in Malaysia wants the Penang reclamation to result in a smart city that is green.
So is this a case of great minds think alike – or is there more to this than meets the eye?
Let’s look at Hong Kong’s population density – 7,000 people per sq km – compared to Penang’s density of 1,700 people per sq km (2,500 for Penang Island alone.) So Penang has even less of a case for massive land reclamation.
The Hong Kong government projects its population to rise from 7.3 million currently to 9 million (the figure in its 2030 Plus blueprint). But critics ask where these 9 million people are coming from. After all, Hong Kong folks are having fewer children. The Hong Kong Statistics Department expects the population to peak at 8.2 million in 2043 – that’s 800,000 fewer people compared to the 9 million figure in the government’s 2030 Plus blueprint projection.
Similarly, the Penang transport proposal projects the Penang population to rise to 2.45 million by 2030 – much higher than the 1.9 million projected by the Statistics Department. So where are the half a million extra people coming from? Like their Hong Kong counterparts, Penang folks are having fewer children – well below the population replaçement rate of 2.1 children per woman.
In Hong Kong as in Penang, a string of environmental groups have complained that the reclamation will “irreversibly damage” the environment, especially the coastal ecology. WWF Hongkong is reported as saying that reclamation has led to a drop in the number of dolphins by 70% and would hurt the fishing industry. “Fish rely on having natural coastlines for spawning,” said a spokesperson. “Building an artificial coastline erases that habitat.”
We haven’t even talked about the affordability of housing on the reclaimed land, with just 20% of the homes on Penang’s three new islands expected to be “affordable” – or have they raised it to 30% now? (In contrast, Hong Kong is planning for 70% of the 400,000 homes on the reclaimed land to be affordable.)
As in Hong Kong and Penang, critics argue there are other alternatives for land supply – more attention could be given to brownfield sites in Hong Kong’s New Territories and to spreading ‘development’ on mainland Penang.
So why the push for such massive land reclamation despite the strong backlash? The answer as always is easy. Follow the money trail and see who profits (contractors, developers and …) and who loses (the Commons, the fishermen and the public through increased scarcity of fish, leading to higher fish prices).