Lawmakers block road funds after ferry upset

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2006, 12:00am

Assurance sought on historic sites along trunk route

Lawmakers wary of becoming involved in another Star Ferry debacle yesterday rejected the government's request for an extra HK$93.3 million to fund design costs and site investigation of the proposed Central Kowloon Route.

They fear the new route puts the Yau Ma Tei Police Station and Jade Market at risk.

Director of Highways Wai Chi-sing told legislators at a meeting of the public works subcommittee of the Finance Committee that the government needed the money to continue its study on the proposed 3.9km trunk road, with a 2.6km tunnel linking East and West Kowloon.

The government has already spent US$99 million on the study but says it needs the extra funding as it plans to expand the size of the tunnel from four lanes to six lanes to cope with increased traffic from the Kai Tak Development project.

Medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki feared a repeat of the Star Ferry saga if funding was approved. 'The government tries to rush through things and start projects before the public knows the complete picture,' he said.

'I completely agree that Hong Kong needs to develop road networks. But we should also care about our valuable buildings.'

Built in 1922, the station, painted white and light blue, is an Edwardian design. Across from it is the popular Jade Market - a favourite for collectors from all over the world.

A government source said last week the project would run through the station's staff quarters, which are not heritage-listed.

Dr Kwok said originally there was no problem in approving the funding, but now legislators wanted reassurance that the police station and market would be protected.

'The government would say one day that lawmakers today agreed to the demolition of the station if we simply approved the funding,' he said. 'If the government does not clarify its plan on the station, it will be another pseudo-consultation. It will once again push legislators to a position of no return.'

Unionist lawmaker Chan Yuen-han said she would not approve the funding. 'We cannot sacrifice everything for the sake of development,' she said. 'I cannot trust the government after the Star Ferry incident.'

Choy So-yuk, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: 'In the past, we might not have been that conscious about heritage but now there are fewer of these buildings.'

The highways director said he could not guarantee that the police station and the Jade Market would not be affected.

'I can promise we will make keeping them as a starting point but I can't promise you now it will be the case for certain,' he said. 'We will certainly listen to the public and launch public consultations.'