A battalion of concrete pumps are paving the wetlands at Lok Ma Chau Loop unfettered by Hong Kong law, while the government says it has “nothing to say” on the project from any environmental perspective.
The noise, dust and smoke from at least six 30 metre-high concrete pumps and earth-moving machinery skittered across the wetlands late last night, with the construction of a new 1,000-bed hospital and 10,000-bed isolation facility now at “full speed” according to the government.
In response to questions on the environmental impact and environmental laws governing the project, Environmental Protection Department last week said it was not the relevant department, and referred enquiries first to Food and Health Bureau, which did not respond, and then to Development Bureau, which this week said it “had nothing to add” to a statement outlining the Emergency Powers in place at the Loop.
Construction, led by mainland contractor China Construction Science and Industry Corporation, is proceeding under emergency powers, with the whole 88-hectare Lok Ma Chau Loop exempt from any “relevant laws of the HKSAR” since 4 March.
But it is not clear what laws – for environment or even health and worker safety – are in place at the busy site, or, for example, who has jurisdiction for enforcement or reporting in the case of worker injury or death.
Bridges are also being built across the Shenzhen River to connect the Loop more directly with Shenzhen, a move the government said was of “utmost importance” to the project and which will allow construction workers and materials into the site “in the shortest time”.
Plans to build on the Loop, a plot of land created from the re-engineering of the Shenzhen River’s Lok Ma Chau meander, have been controversial, with green and nature groups fighting the construction of a mega science park for over a decade.
But in March 2021, the central government’s 14th Five Year Plan announced the “Shenzhen-Hong Kong Loop as one of the four major platforms of co-operation in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA)” and re-ignited development interest,
Project owner Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks appointed design consultants for the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park (HSITP) four months later, in July 2021, and the park development became a major component of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s 2021 “Northern Metropolis” Policy Address delivered in October 2021.
Two months later, in December 2021, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit visited the site to throw the government’s full support behind the development.
“We are pressing ahead with the development of the HSITP and studying ways to expedite its construction to explore a development model with greater flexibility,” he said.
In February 2022, the government announced Lok Ma Chau Loop as one of nine sites for emergency isolation and hospital facilities to be built with help from the mainland.
The last public consultation on the Loop development was in 2012.
At the time, Lok Ma Chau village representative Cheung Pui Chuen said the increased risk of flooding caused by building on the Shenzhen River floodplain would “totally put life and property at the south of the Lok Ma Chau Loop at risk.”
And the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HJBWS) then said the development was “unacceptable in planning and environmental aspects” and that the plans “violated Hong Kong Planning Standards”.
“HKBWS is deeply concerned that the HKSAR Government is using the LMC Loop development as an experimental development to test the tolerance of the Deep Bay Ecosystem,” said the organisation in 2012.
Supporters of the development include Hong Kong Baptist University, which planned to build a 16,000-strong student campus as well as a 50-bed “Chinese cum Western Medicine Teaching Hospital” funded by the government; and Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which said it could be a pilot project “testing new concepts of the free flow of people between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. It could also be used as a pilot case to try out new ideas of compromising and integrating intellectual property (IP) laws as well as immigration and tax laws in a neutral base, it said.