Hong Kong’s leader has proposed building a 17 square kilometer artificial island where more than one million people can live to solve the city’s shortage of land and housing.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam reiterated her government’s resolve to tackle the city’s chronic land shortage and housing woes in her annual Policy Address delivered to the Legislative Council on Wednesday morning.

A slew of aggressive reclamation projects to create large chunks of land in the sea off Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island, were being touted by Lam as the long-term solution to the city’s thirst for land.

Hong Kong's next boss?Photo: Reuters/Neil Hall
Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

She said an artificial island of 1,700 hectares, or 17 square kilometers, would be made in the shallow water off Lantau through hydraulic blow-fill techniques to provide homes for as many as 1.1 million, in a timeframe that could span more than 20 years, way beyond Lam’s own tenure.

The ambitious project would provide space for up to 400,000 residential units and industries offering 340,000 new jobs, according to government’s preliminary estimates.

Lam vowed in her address that up to 70% of the new land would be set aside for public and subsidized housing. 

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An artist’s impression of the proposed artificial island for housing off Hong Kong’s Lantau. Photo: Handout

Lantau houses Hong Kong’s Disneyland Resort and the city’s airport, both built on land reclaimed from the sea. The rugged island is also the Hong Kong end of the 55-km mega bridge linking the city to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai.

Space has always been at a premium in the former British colony, which is notorious for its cramped living spaces. The city of 7.3 million residents has seen home sizes shrink even further to as small as a parking lot, while prices go through the roof.

This has been mainly due to many years of credit loosening, monopolies by a handful of realty conglomerates, previous administrations’ inaction to accelerate land supply as well as the continuous inflow of investors and speculators.

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Shots of densely-populated public housing estates in Hong Kong. Photo: Twitter

Office space is also in short supply in the global financial center, making the city’s existing central business districts such as Central, Admiralty and Causeway Bay among the most expensive places to rent an office, according to realty consultancy firm CBRE.

The new man-made island will swallow up smaller, neighboring isles, an idea heavily criticized by environmental conservationists. The actual size of reclamation was boosted from the original plan of 10 square kilometers.

Concerned groups representing the poor living in subdivided flats lashed out at the government’s red tape: reclamation works would only start in 2025, and the first batch of flats would not be available until the 2030s.

Lam admitted that the grand plan for land reclamation off Lantau was a long-term vision, which would do little about easing the plight of those living in Hong Kong’s ubiquitous shoe-box-sized units and inhumane “cage homes.”

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Manman Luk, a freelance model and make up artist in Hong Kong, inside her 10-square-meter sub-divided unit. Photo: Reuters
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A woman and her son in their 5.6-square-meter subdivided flat in Hong Kong, which has a monthly rent of US$487. Photo: Twitter via Reuters

The city had more than 270,000 applicants for public housing units as of May, and on average they had to wait for no less than five years before being allocated a rental home that was usually 200-400 square feet.

Lam also announced a major shift in the government’s overall rezoning and development masterplan by setting 70% of the new plots for public housing and 30% for the private sector – up from the current 60:40 ratio.

She also pledged to speed up studies on turning underutilized sites in the New Territories into housing.

One initiative could be the public-private partnership model, and to allay concerns over collusion with private developers, Lam said no less than 60% of the PPP land must be reserved for public housing.