A land concern group said developers – rather than the people of Hong Kong – stand to benefit more from the massive Lantau reclamation project under a proposed private-public partnership.
The government has floated the idea of having private developers involved in land reclamation and share the cost of the Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan, Hong Kong's most expensive infrastructure project that carries a price tag of HK$624 billion.
But Chan Kim-ching of the Liber Research Community argued that getting the private sector involved would mean that home prices would stay at high levels and do little to resolve a housing shortage as promised by the scheme.
He said it would end up costing more for the city in the long run as the financial burden falls on the people.
"Somehow there's nothing more expensive than something free," he said. "It's not actually free but that might imply that the astronomical cost could be shifted to our next generation or after."
Development Secretary Michael Wong tried to justify the partnership model by pointing to the City One residential project in Sha Tin in the 1980s, in which the developer also shouldered the cost of reclamation.
The government also claims that the Lantau project will become profitable thanks to the sale of reclaimed land.
"But if this is a financially successful investment – being from the land sales – that also means that you can no longer solve the housing problem and high property price as promised in the project, because you still need to set quite a high property price in order to gain the land sales from the developer," Chan said.
The Liber Research Community cited planning problems with similar projects, such as one in Tin Shui Wai.
"You have to reserve the most profitable areas for partnership. As a result, the less desirable area could be used by the general public. So, it's not actually good in terms of public planning if you turn it into a privatised... or using the private-public partnership model," Chan said.
He said there are other ways to resolve the housing problem, such as brownfield sites and vacant government land.
The Lantau project, unveiled by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in her policy address in 2018, is aimed at creating a new metropolis by building artificial islands. Critics, however, have questioned what they see as a high price tag and possible drain on public coffers. They have also expressed environmental concerns.