Following the invitation by the Transport Department to comment on their Proposal for Relaxation of Traffic Restrictions on South Lantau the LIM committee have prepared the following response, in consultation with the community, which opposes the TD proposals.
21 July 2015
Dear Commissioner for Transport,
Review of Closed Road Arrangements in South Lantau and Proposals for Relaxation
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your Paper IDC TTC 33/2015 (the “Paper”) and the proposals contained therein. Living Islands Movement (LIM) has a strong interest in this matter. We have consulted and obtained views of members and discussed the issue at length in committee meetings.
One major concern is that many groups have different understanding of the meaning of the stated objectives of “promoting Tourism and other development”. These should have been better defined and articulated in the brief. But in general, it is considered that large scale Tourism is not suitable for South Lantau, and that other economic development is already proceeding apace in the form of residential housing of various types and projects such as the Mui Wo and Tai O Facelifts. Our view is that additional stimulus is not needed at this particular time.
We reflect these views in more detail below, but would summarize our opinion as follows:
Our views are based on a wider analysis of South Lantau’s transport needs, which we believe should match the actual and planned state of development of the area.
Traffic issues arising from rapid pace of Residential Housing development
As the Paper correctly points out, the current planning intention for South Lantau is for it to be preserved…….”for nature conservation and sustainable recreational and visitor uses”. It was also understood that there was to be a limited amount of low density residential development.
However, a rapid pace of issuance of building licenses for Village Houses, several high-end residential developments along the South Lantau Road and construction of about 650 new Home Ownership Scheme flats in Mui Wo are leading to a surge in demand for permanent Lantau Closed Road Permits (“LCRPs”) from the rising residential population of the South Lantau area. This growth in internal demand is set to continue for several more years as these projects are completed and occupied. The extreme pressure on public space for parking in Mui Wo and elsewhere, (even at the current level of vehicle ownership), is well known and on the current trajectory may only become materially worse over the next 2-3 years.
In this context, it is in LIM’s view inadvisable to begin opening the South Lantau Road to external private users at this time. Although the initial proposal is modest in scale, the direction of policy risks raising expectations of further opening to unsustainable levels. Instead, LIM recommends that the situation be reassessed when the Mui Wo and Tai O Face Lift are much further advanced, so that the actual impact on traffic and parking from all these developments can be properly assessed.
Issues arising from organized tourism to South Lantau
The Revised Lantau Concept Plan of 2007 also pointed out that main opportunity for South Lantau was as a destination for recreation (hiking, cycling, watersports etc.) and eco-tourism. The area is not considered suitable for large scale, mass tourist development. However, as the Paper mentions, there are two “themed” tourist destinations in the area, namely the Ngong Ping Monastery and Tai O Village. Both appear to be operating at near full capacity and need little further stimulus.
Therefore, we do not see the need to increase the number of organized coach parties accessing the area. Indeed, the heavy flow of return bus and coach traffic on the South Lantau Road at weekends and holidays is regarded as dangerous and environmentally damaging by the residents of affected areas such as Shui Hau and Tong Fuk Villages.
On the other hand, alternative transport arrangements, such as extending the MTR Cable Car service to Tai O and enhancing the ferry service between Tung Chung pier and Tai O could help to manage the flow of tourists accessing these destinations, and may permit additional growth in a sustainable manner. In particular, we think it desirable to encourage the Cable Cars to be used more fully in both directions, to alleviate some of the environmental pressure from heavy road transport.
Facilitating individual access to South Lantau for Recreational Activities
LIM views the growing use of the South Lantau area for recreational purposes by individuals and small groups of visitors, including many “locals” from other parts of Hong Kong, as a positive development and in-line with the overall vision for the sustainable development of the area.
However, visitors and residents alike complain of the difficulties of moving around the area via public transport. The shortage of licensed taxis is acute, and the bus service, although now enhanced at weekends, is still inadequate, leading to long queues and extensive waiting times. The ferry service to/from Central appears to be adequate at present, but will soon be under pressure from the expected continued growth of both resident commuting and visitor arrivals.
Overall, we believe the emphasis of the current discussion should be switched away from relaxing restrictions on private vehicles entering South Lantau and towards upgrading significantly Public Transport options for visitors and residents.
LIM would also like to see additional public transport options explored, such as introducing a mini-bus service and double-decker buses. Another idea would be to set up a private/public transport interchange at Tung Chung.
Safety and policing issues
Many of our members are very concerned about the safety issues that will arise from the relaxation measures. It is well known that the South Lantau Road and connecting roads are narrow and winding and unsuitable for large vehicles. Lantau roads are also dangerous for drivers who are unfamiliar with the conditions here.
The Police have already pointed out that they do not have the resources to either a) adequately monitor for dangerous driving and speeding vehicles or b) effectively ensure that vehicles entering the South Lantau area comply with the requirement to display a LCRP.
On point a) LIM and others have repeatedly asked for more stringent speed limits and traffic calming measures on key sections of the South Lantau Road system, especially those passing through villages, as yet to no avail. We believe strongly that this issue needs to be revisited before any further relaxation of access measures are introduced.
On point b), there is already anecdotal evidence of significant numbers of vehicles entering the area without a permit. Further, the Paper does not give any detail of how usage of the new day permits will be monitored and enforced. In our view, the introduction of electronic systems for monitoring and controlling the access to the South Lantau area from the Tung Chung gateway is long overdue.
According to the Paper there are already 4,000 permanent LCRPs in issuance, yet there only 350 parking places in the area. Of course it is unknown how many private parking spaces exist, but it is clear that so-called informal, often illegal, parking in and around the villages and Mui Wo in particular is an increasing problem. This has potential to cause social disturbance if not carefully managed. It is impractical for the Police to act in this regard since there are no alternative parking facilities. As mentioned above, this situation is almost certain to deteriorate further in the next few years.
While LIM supports measures to enhance transport arrangements for the South Lantau area, we believe that this should be in-line with the stated development goals of the Revised Concept Plan for Lantau. The greater emphasis should be on enhancing public transport facilities for the rapidly growing resident population and visitors seeking recreational and eco-tourist opportunities in South Lantau.
We recommend that the South Lantau communities be consulted further, perhaps through a public forum, on how best to improve the Tourist experience in ways that do not damage the environment and quality of life here.
Dr Merrin Pearse
Chairman of Living Islands Movement