A green Hong Kong in 2030 and beyond? Not according to this plan

Discussion about Hong Kong 2030 Plus, a blueprint for the city’s development beyond 2030, has focused mainly on the use of land, while sustainable growth has received much less attention.

In the document released ahead of the six-month public consultation exercise, which began late last month, the government says it wants to build a smart, green and resilient city. It pledges to encourage walking in new town plazas, prioritising pedestrians rather than roads.

We fully support the initiative for a more walkable environment. But how far can the plan really protect our environment?

The blueprint calls for the development of two other business districts (in Kowloon East and the proposed East Lantau Metropolis) apart from the one in Central; two strategic growth areas (East Lantau Metropolis and New Territories North); and three “emerging axes” (a Western economic corridor, Eastern knowledge and technology corridor, and Northern economic belt). The impact of this decentralised approach should be studied carefully.

For a start, how would our air quality be affected? According to the consultation report, some areas in Hong Kong – such as Tsing Yi and a part of Kwai Chung – will not be able to meet the air quality objective of having annual nitrogen dioxide emission levels that won’t exceed 40 micrograms per cubic metre by 2020. This means roadside pollution would be worse in these areas compared with the rest of Hong Kong.

This is the first time the government has revealed such projections. Does this estimation already include key data, such as traffic surveys for road networks around the air monitoring stations, and the expected traffic growth from the proposed strategic growth areas and development axes? If the answer is no, then the number would be a serious underestimation of the pollution levels by 2020.

The government advocates the development of a high-density compact city. We applaud this vision, but argue that the development of two strategic areas will contradict this principle, which aims to centralise a society’s social and economic activities in order to better preserve its ecologically sensitive areas.

As the report noted, the number of private vehicles in Hong Kong has increased by an average of 3 per cent a year for the past 20 years. If this trend continues, the city would see some 1.23 million vehicles by 2041, which would be more than double the number in 2015. This is clearly unsustainable.

Yet, the development framework currently set out in Hong Kong 2030 Plus is likely to further spur the growth of car numbers. This would push demand for more roads, and lead to more congestion and, hence, air pollution.

A truly liveable compact city should be more walkable, more accessible and more cycle-friendly. Here are some of our proposals to realise the government’s stated goal of a compact city.

First, many parts of Hong Kong can accommodate vibrant community life. This means allowing small streets to flourish with grocery stores, libraries, banks and cafés, which would make the environment more dense yet also more liveable. By creating these urban centres, Hong Kong will improve its citizens well-being and living standards.

Second, we propose adopting walking and biking as alternative forms of transport in places such as Central (like the proposed pedestrianisation scheme for Des Voeux Road Central), the northern parts of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon East and at a proposed “green deck” in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel vicinity linking Hung Hom MTR station and the Polytechnic University campus.

A “clean air fund” could also be designated to support social innovations that improve urban infrastructure to reduce air pollution and alleviate congestion.

Such policies aim to provide a compact city with good connectivity so that people can access facilities easily without travelling far.

Loong Tsz-Wai is the community relations manager at Clean Air Network