Balance between development and conservation
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.