Bal­ance between de­vel­op­ment and con­ser­va­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

It is to be hoped that the air­port third run­way project, which is cru­cial to Hong Kong main­tain­ing its po­si­tion as an in­ter­na­tional and re­gional avi­a­tion hub in the long term, has cleared all bar­ri­ers from its path af­ter the High Court on Thurs­day dis­missed the le­gal chal­lenge — a ju­di­cial re­view ini­ti­ated by con­ser­va­tion­ists against it.

Like al­most all other ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture or de­vel­op­ment projects un­der­taken in the city over the decades, the third run­way project has en­coun­tered bit­ter op­po­si­tion ever since the mo­ment it was pro­posed. En­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion or con­ser­va­tion has been the ma­jor rea­son of op­po­si­tion in re­cent years.

In fact, any­one of our se­nior res­i­dents will find it easy to tell a cou­ple of anec­dotes about re­lent­less anti-de­vel­op­ment cam­paigns in the past. For in­stance, lo­cal econ­o­mists and some leg­is­la­tors op­posed the con­struc­tion of the Mass Tran­sit Rail­way (MTR) in the 1970s. They be­lieved the city did not need such an ex­pen­sive in­fra­struc­ture and were against the govern­ment guar­an­tee­ing the loans the rail­way com­pany ob­tained for the huge project. Then in re­cent years the con­ser­va­tion­ists have be­come the main ob­sta­cle to de­vel­op­ment, op­pos­ing the con­struc­tion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Ma­cao Bridge as well as the third run­way project of the Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

Had th­ese op­po­nents to in­fra­struc­ture projects pre­vailed, Hong Kong wouldn’t have had an in­ter­na­tion­ally ad­mired metro sys­tem, which now ef­fi­ciently car­ries over 4 mil­lion pas­sen­gers around the city ev­ery day on av­er­age, form­ing the back­bone of the city’s whole public trans­port sys­tem. Hong Kong would have re­mained a back­ward fish­ing vil­lage had early in­hab­i­tants fought against de­vel­op­ment as in­tensely as some op­po­nents do now; and new towns such as Sha Tin and Tse­ung Kwan O wouldn’t have come into ex­is­tence, to say noth­ing of their cur­rently over 1 mil­lion res­i­dents com­bined.

It is worth not­ing that none of the “dire en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences” the con­ser­va­tion­ists warned about in re­cent years has ever hap­pened, not to men­tion an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter. This is not be­cause of sheer luck but ex­tremely care­ful and rig­or­ous plan­ning and im­ple­men­ta­tion for ev­ery big project un­der­taken in the city. Con­ser­va­tion is a no­ble cause. But in many cases, self-in­ter­est is the true rea­son be­hind an­tag­o­nism against de­vel­op­ment. Un­der­stand­ably, new de­vel­op­ment projects will al­ways af­fect some vested in­ter­ests.

Hong Kong’s ex­pe­ri­ence of de­vel­op­ing into a shin­ing in­ter­na­tional me­trop­o­lis from its hum­ble be­gin­ning as a bar­ren fish­ing vil­lage has proven that a healthy bal­ance can be struck between de­vel­op­ment and con­ser­va­tion.

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