New Land Plans

Construction on Macau’s new land fills is set to break ground. Over the years, urban planning professionals have been debating the way forward, but questions linger on as some groups are not sure about the government’s plans for the city’s new urban zones that have been reclaimed from the Pearl River Delta.

By Catarina Pereira and Sofia Rebelo with Rima Cui 

Anyone using the Nobre de Carvalho Bridge or the Friendship Bridge will have a hard time ignoring what has been surfacing in the waters of the Pearl River: the New Urban Zones comprising land reclamation zones A, B, C, D, E1, and E2.The new landfills grow by the day.  

The sand gives shape to the five lots, encompassing a total area of 350 hectares. 

The central government approved the urban plan in 2009 and the preparatory works and technical studies of landfilling in the several lots have been gradually and orderly progressing. According to the 2020 Policy Address (LAG), the detailed plan of Zone A will be accelerated, starting with the original planning of its “public housing functions, conception, and execution.” 

This is the most publicized zone, although its conclusion is still far away. Among the sites included in this zone, 30 are reserved for the construction of 28 thousand public housing units. The Macau SAR Government has wrapped up the process related to the urban development requirements, including its public discussion and submission to the Urban Planning Committee (CPU), for its recommendations on the 25 land parcels allocated for public housing and 10 lots for public services of assorted nature (education, sports, healthcare, social services, among others). There is also space for four thousand private housing units. 

Zone A

In the meantime, a public tender is under way for construction work in lots B4, B9, and B10, with a “provisional construction of a total of 3,011 economic housing units.” 

 The construction phase of public projects in Zone A is slated to begin in early 2021 and completed in 2023. Construction of public housing in lots B4, B9, and B10 will begin this year and are scheduled to conclude in 2022. Meanwhile, according to the LAG report, public housing projects for lot B5 will start in 2021 and conclude in the following year. 

Zone B

In parallel, construction work of the fourth Macau-Taipa maritime connection will also start. The Policy Address report says, “We will start the public consultation process about the East line of the LTR and, also, with the most brevity, the conception and study of the line which will connect Zone E in Taipa and Zone A in Macau, via tunnel.” 

The Policy Address report also says that, in 2020, the public consultation procedures will begin for the East Line – with a total length of 7.8 kilometers – as well as the public announcement of its environmental impact assessment, as legally required. “When the environmental impact study and the maritime area use reports are concluded, they will be submitted to the Central Government for approval.” 

Zones C, D, and E are still unclear as per their definition. The Jornal Tribuna de Macau newspaper requested updated data from the Land, Public Works, and Transport Bureau (DSSOPT), but the department replied that they have to wait for the New Director Plan, adding only that the most recent data is included in the 2015 consultation text. 

In that document, Zone A is destined primarily for housing, retail, amenities, green areas, or open public spaces and assorted public infrastructures. 

On the other hand, Zone B will mostly include public green spaces, collective use venues, and housing. The 49 hectares project also includes the construction of public administration and judicial departments’ buildings. The waterfront aims to create a landscaping connection between “the hill, the sea, and the city,” and it also includes a special area for fireworks burning and a venue for cultural exhibitions. 

While Zones C and D are mainly for housing purposes, Zone E1 will also have some housing buildings, but its primary use will be to welcome several public infrastructures, including two water treatment facilities. One for residual waters and one for recycled water. Likewise, Zone E2 is also mainly prepared for public infrastructures. 

Confusing plans 

According to urban planner, Lam Iek Chit, the new urban zones planning present “many problems.” “Following the three consultation phases, the government decided to change a number of planning contents, including changing the fourth connection from a tunnel to a bridge,” he says, adding that that particular topic was not addressed during the consultation and, thus, the changes were made directly. “The former government also added a fifth connection and, until now, we still don’t know if the east line of the LTR will be built or not.” 

He underlines that, to this day, the overall urban plan for the new zones is not known and insists that the proposal that was concluded after the third phase of consultation makes no sense anymore, since all the changes were made afterwards. “With so many changes, we should have a new proposal. The current one is too confusing.” 

Lam Iek Chit goes further and provides a specific example: “Ho Iat Seng said that it’s not possible to go ahead with landfills in Zone D, but that would prevent the fifth connection from being built, since Zone D is essential for the construction of the tunnel. That means the fifth connection is in danger.” The urban planner’s opinion is that the government should alter this point. 

He concludes that the CPU discussed how the traffic system will operate in Zone A, where public housing is expected to be built, namely “which traffic structures will be constructed, and if any pedestrian ways will be included, but the public knows absolutely nothing about it.” 

“Strangling” in the waterfront 

With a relatively scarce area, Macau has been growing at “the expense of land reclamations.” Throughout the years and different cycles, it has become ever larger, with a current total area of 32 square kilometers. Speaking about this evolution, architect Maria José de Freitas remembers the time when she arrived in Macau, when the Ilha Verde area was not connected to the peninsula. 

All this raises a series of questions, especially of environmental nature. Although the residents are used to the changing scenery from all the “new land,” it is the Pearl River Delta that bears the grunt of the new constructions’ pressure. “The river has its own specific circumstances – both geographical and morphological – and we can’t, nor should we, constantly change the riverbed, which is subjected to successive silt ups.” 

The architect is keen to explain that the changes in the status quo and environmental factors, such as typhoons and tidal floods, cause problems that justify “an intensive study of the entire area, from an environmental characteristics perspective,” in order to evaluate “how far we can go and where we should stop.” Maria José de Freitas also points to the changing Hengqin Island, both in the Macau side and the Mainland side. She calls these problems, “stranglings” in the river margins. 

According to her, years ago, she noticed, from several studies, that the riverbed was “just a collection of canals, with substantial destruction of fauna and flora,” and she “understood that the development of Macau, via an extension to Hengqin, was regarded as natural.” 

She underlines that the circumstances of this development are still unknown and that she worries about the new 3.5 square kilometers that will be added in the future. 

Maria José de Freitas feels that the city’s future master plan should take into account the need for striking a balance. “From a regional context perspective, Macau is no longer isolated from Mainland China. There is this clear idea to develop the Greater Bay Area and Macau is very much part of that endeavor. So, the long term planning, for the next 10, 15, or 20 years, has to account for the entire region. No imbalance is allowed and we can’t double our population because that will create unbearable situations.” 

Zones C, D, E

10 principles to follow 

In 2011, Nuno Soares led a team of researchers from the Macau Architects Association to study Macau’s public spaces. The study on Urban Fabric and Public Space in Macau proposes 10 principles that shed light on some problems. According to the architect, the principles “should be regarded as a whole,” because they “complete” each other. 

1 Inclusion in the city’s master plan: the new land reclamations planning should meet the goals of the master plan. 

2 Plan-process: set principles, directives, and orienting frameworks, but with the flexibility to handle the changing needs. Urban planning should be designed and planned for the long-term. 

3 Multifunctional plan: planning must prevent “dormitory only or industrial only” areas. By allowing a multitude of services and functions, “urban dead areas” will be absent. 

4 The public space should structure the urban network: public spaces are the areas of the city that are used and, thus, they should serve the pedestrians. The urban network should prevent automotive traffic and, instead, promote pedestrian circulation and be divided in blocks. 

5 Public buildings as central points: public buildings should serve as “anchors” for the different zones. 

6 A city designed for pedestrians: Even taking into account all the streets and roads, it’s possible to walk across Macau. The new land reclamations will have a different morphology, but it’s important to keep that characteristic. 

7 A rich and diversified waterfront: With the construction of new zones, the city will increasingly be regarded as an archipelago, as the new areas will be islands, essentially. Thus, the Macau SAR will have a new and vast maritime front, which should be covered with a “green corridor.” However, it should not be the same in all areas in order for diversity to bring the city closer to the river. 

8 Temporary use: There is an obvious lack of space in Macau. It’s important to temporarily use the new landfills until their completion. Currently, Zone B is used for parking purposes. The remaining areas can be used for sports or green spaces until construction is finalized. 

9 The “new city”: The new land reclamations should materialize the new city, taking into account the future of Macau. It’s important to build, but also to promote creative ideas competitions in order to generate debate and discuss what the people want for the future. 

10 Economic diversification: Economic diversification requires space and flexibility. The new urban areas will not have casinos, but they must have the required spaces for the development of new economic industries. 

Exclusive JTM / Macau Business