Island super-jail plans thrown into disarray by environment officials

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 12:00am

Plans for the Hei Ling Chau super-jail suffered a major setback yesterday after the government's environment advisers attacked the site selection process.

The criticism came as security officials briefed the Advisory Council on the Environment on the proposal whereby 80 hectares of land at Hei Ling Chau would be reclaimed for a $12 billion prison complex housing about 7,200 prisoners.

Council members criticised officials for not considering enough sites during the selection process and cast doubts on the scale of the development.

They urged the Security Bureau and planning officials to study whether the development could be split up so that a wider variety of sites could be considered.

It was a serious blow to the proposal as the council can reject the environmental assessment report and recommend the project's rejection by the director of Environmental Protection.

'If the scale can be reduced or the 80 hectares be split up into two or three parts, this could widen the choices of sites available,' council chairman Lam Kin-che said after the meeting.

Professor Lam said security officials insisted during the briefing that the 80-hectare proposal was optimal and the island remained the best site available after a city-wide hunt for alternatives.

But some members questioned the officials' reasons for ruling out closed areas next to the border with Shenzhen.

Tseung Kwan O was suggested by one member as another option.

Public views are still being sought on the proposal but there will be no more feasibility studies before the consultation ends.

In 2002, security officials slashed the original scale of the super-jail by half after legislators opposed the project on security grounds.

When the officials chose Hei Ling Chau and abandoned another shortlisted site at Kong Nga Po on the border, it sparked outrage among residents on nearby Lantau Island, which would be linked to Hei Ling Chau by a bridge.

Officials said there was an overriding interest in keeping the Kong Nga Po site for cross-border economic integration.