Express rail link wins first funding battle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am

The HK$65.2 billion high-speed rail project has overcome its first funding hurdle - as expected.

Members of the Legislative Council's public works subcommittee approved funding for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Link by 12 votes to eight, with one abstention. The opposition came from pan-democratic lawmakers.

The subcommittee approved a total of HK$66.9 billion - including a contingency fund, price adjustment for rail and non-rail works, and compensation for owners of properties and lands acquired for the project.

Ko Chun-heung, of Tsoi Yuen Village, which will have to make way for the project, said she was disappointed and urged lawmakers to block funding in the final assessment by Legco's Finance Committee. But that is unlikely as a majority supports the railway.

With construction due to begin this month, villagers who once vowed not to move have changed their stance and now want the village to be rebuilt on another site.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said this was not possible under the land policy, but lawmakers urged the bureau to make an exception. It has already made concessions, for instance increasing compensation for villagers and allowing owners of illegal squatter huts to buy government-subsidised housing.

But Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng said that moving the village was so big an undertaking that they could not afford to make such an exemption.

'In the New Territories alone there are already 300,000 squatter huts,' she said. 'If we need to find a site for every one of them when they make way for developments it will be a real challenge to existing land policies.'

Other lawmakers said the government should provide more information to residents of Tai Kok Tsui, whose houses will also be affected - the railway will pass under their buildings. The bureau agreed to give each of the affected residents information on the project and the redevelopment potential of the area.

The director of the Highways Department, Wai Chi-sing, said a surveyor recruited by the MTR Corporation had conducted a structural inspection of each of the 20 affected buildings and was satisfied the works would not cause any safety issues.