It's a case of deja-vu for those who call laid-back Lamma Island home. The waterfront of Yung Shue Wan, home to seafood restaurants, will be filled in with about four square kilometres of concrete under a government plan.
The HK$55 million project will provide a new pedestrian path and ambulance road stretching about 400 metres right around the bay.
That means reclaiming the entire seafront of the town, described on the Tourism Board's website as having a "European ambience".
If the plan sounds familiar, that's because nearly a decade ago the government tried to launch a similar project until residents, local businesses and environmental groups pressured it to stop. Now those same people say the government is trying to slip the plan back on the table without consulting the community.
Alex Ng Tsz-lum, an owner of the family-run Lamma Seaview Man Fung Restaurant, heard about the plan from another resident.
That was two months after the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) published details of the project online.
"It's so surprising," he said. "If this was necessary they would have done it a long time ago, right? Why do they have to do it again after 10 years?"
Ng signed a petition organised by a local concern group in 2002 and believed that after residents rejected the plan then, it would not return.
Yet Ng's biggest surprise was that the plan sketches a new path running directly over nearly the entire seating area of his restaurant - a fact he learned only when he was approached by the Post and shown a copy of the official plans. He had not been informed by the government. "I never heard about it. They never came and consulted the local people," he said.
Ron Yiu Kin-yiu, owner of the Green Cottage cafe, whose verandah overlooks the sea, had also heard nothing from officials. He said the natural coastline was part of Lamma's peaceful appeal and without it residents would move away.
For the two years that the work would take to complete, starting from 2014 according to the CEDD, tourists would not visit, and they might not return, he said. He and Ng said about half their customers were visitors, many of them regulars.
Official guidelines require engineering projects to be announced in the press to inform residents. According to residents concern group Living Lamma, this plan was announced in The Standard - which is not distributed on Lamma Island. And the main official community notice board on Yung Shue Wan Main Street carried no announcement.
"These people don't know Lamma and don't talk to people who do know Lamma," Laura Ruggeri, chairwoman of Living Lamma and a 14-year resident of the island, said. "It is shocking that any government department could be so insensitive to the character of the island."
The senior CEDD engineer on the project, Eric Leung, said planning was still at an early stage and would soon undergo an environmental impact assessment. He said the plan had already been cut back from the HK$60 million project covering 10 square kilometres originally proposed in 2002.
"At that time we received quite a lot of objections and the planning department reduced the scale of the reclamation," he said.
Lamma district councillor Yu Lai-fan confirmed that there had been no public consultation on the new plan. The last meetings took place in 2003 and were only to do with the previous plan, which was subsequently rejected. However, Yu did support the proposal, she said.
"Especially in the holidays, the main street is squeezed and vehicles even cannot pass by," she said. "An ambulance could take at least five to 10 minutes to go from the clinic to the pier. With emergency vehicle access, it would take no more than 30 seconds."
Ruggeri said Living Lamma was not opposed to development on the island, but there were alternative ways to build an ambulance path without wrecking the shore.
Ng said his business would suffer if the plan went ahead. His restaurant, where customers sit just a metre or two from the shoreline, would not be the same if it overlooked 30 metres of concrete instead.
"The name of our restaurant is Lamma Seaview. If they do that, we are not Lamma Seaview anymore," he said. "We'd have to change the name of the restaurant, right? It wouldn't make sense any more."
1. Map of Lamma by SCMP Graphics
2. Diners look out to boats bobbing on the bay at Yung Shue Wan from a restaurant set right on the waterfront, by Jonathan Wong