Private developers offered free hand

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 April, 2004, 12:00am

Government proposal allows firms to build profitable sidelines to public projects

The government proposes giving private developers who build public projects a free hand to build anything they deem profitable around the developments, provided no zoning bylaws are violated, officials disclosed yesterday.

The government is advocating the public-private partnership (PPP) model as a means to fund projects it cannot pay for. Developers will build and operate the public facilities.

Legislators on the home affairs panel were told that provided the developers awarded tenders for the projects gained Town Planning Board approval, they could build whatever they wanted next to the public facilities for their own profit.

Two pilot PPP projects would go out to tender this year and if they were successful the programme would be expanded, said Deputy Director of Leisure and Cultural Services Alan Siu Yu-bun.

'If there is an enthusiastic response to our tendering, it means the private sector believes it can make a profit out of it, and it also means our idea is going to work. So we will develop more projects under this model,' he said.

He said it would be unrealistic to place too many limits on private investors. They would not be drawn to unprofitable public projects.

The two PPP pilot schemes are a leisure and cultural centre in Kwun Tong, and an ice rink, bowling alley and park in Tseung Kwan O.

The government has also earmarked a $6 billion redevelopment of a Sha Tin water treatment plant and a cultural centre in Tai Po to be built under the PPP.

Approval by the Legislative Council will not be required for PPP projects because they do not involve public expenditure. The relevant bureaus will handle tendering for a project.

Mr Siu said price limits would ensure private businesses did not overcharge the public. The charges would be compared with market rates and government costs.

Democratic Party legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo was not convinced prices could be kept affordable. 'Look at what is happening to bus fares - senior officials and the public are against bus companies' refusal to lower fares, but one can do nothing to bring down fares to a reasonable level,' he said.

Mr Cheng said Legco and the district councils should decide how much developers could charge.

The Frontier legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing agreed and urged the government to set up a permanent body to monitor the performance of developers.

But Liberal Party legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said the new PPP model was the way forward. 'Good things must be expensive. You can't ask for quality service but be unwilling to pay a good price. If you have too many restrictions, no one will invest.'