Pressure grows over land 'gift'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am

The government has a fight on its hands over its decision to grant a prime Mid-Levels site to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for expansion.

For a nominal sum of HK$1,000, the 2,100 square metre site will be given to the ministry to meet its need for more space. That sum is roughly the same as what the government asked of foreign consulates when they took over central areas they currently occupy.

But the pan-democrats are taking issue with the decision.

In a letter to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said no one deserved special treatment, especially when the lack of affordable land had already resulted in people being forced to pay dearly for their homes.

'Land is a valuable resource and the public is already very angry with rising property costs,' Lau wrote in the letter.

'If the government wants to give mainland bodies in Hong Kong free land and other special privileges, it should first consult Legco and the public on such policies.'

The government will grant the Borrett Road site next door to the foreign affairs commissioner's office in Kennedy Road until 2047. A new residence for the commissioner plus an office block will be built on the site.

Lau said it was unacceptable for the government to unilaterally make such a decision without consulting the public. She is demanding that officials explain their policy in Legco.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan also wrote to Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor demanding to know how the HK$1,000 figure was set.

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said the government had followed the law when making the decision, adding that it was the administration's practice to charge nominal sums under similar circumstances.

A spokeswoman for the British Consulate said the land-lease grant was made under a 'similar arrangement'.

It added that it had never made an application for expansion since it moved into its current site in Admiralty before the handover.

But unlike the foreign affairs commissioner, the governments of most foreign consuls-general have either bought or rented their own residences.

An official familiar with the situation said the position of Beijing's representative in Hong Kong could not be compared with foreign envoys, since Hong Kong was a part of China.

The head of the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army inherited his residence on The Peak from the British military at the handover, so there was no need to buy or build a new one.

The commissioner's office could not be contacted for comment.

Expansion plans

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs space for offices and a residence

The government plans to grant the Borrett Road site until the year: 2047