C.Y. Leung unveils plan for 230 lifts to improve access for city's elderly
HK$1 billion a year will be spent on removing barriers for elderly but critics say scheme is another bid to boost chief's flagging popularity
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying says the government will spend HK$1 billion a year turning Hong Kong into a "city of lifts" to remove barriers for elderly and disabled people.
But Leung's critics say the plan for 230 new outdoor lifts - serving locations such as footbridges and steep slopes - is an attempt to court popularity and divert attention from the scandals that have beset the new government in its first two months.
The chief executive made the announcement on a visit to a community centre in Sheung Wan yesterday. While the first 10 lifts are already under construction, the timetable for the others remains vague.
"Hong Kong is a gradually ageing society," Leung told his audience of elderly people. "So the demand for barrier-free facilities is growing."
Leung said the government's previous policy of installing ramps rather than lifts to counter steep slopes had prompted complaints. He said anyone who wanted a lift in a particular location should contact the government's hotline on 1823.
Transport and housing minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, who joined Leung for the announcement, said he hoped property companies, including the MTR Corporation and The Link Reit, which runs car parks and shopping facilities on public housing estates, would "co-operate" with the plans.
Leung said the government would spend HK$100 million on planning in the next year and then HK$1 billion on building works each year. He did not say how long the scheme would run or how many lifts would be built each year. The government will seek the money from the Legislative Council as a block grant, rather than applying for funds for each project.
Leung acknowledged that the price was high but said: "The sum of this social investment is relatively big, but I believe it'll be welcomed by the aged, the physically disabled and children."
The lift plan is seen as one of the "10 livelihood projects" promised by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is co-ordinating the scheme.
Political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung, of Chinese University, said Leung's decision to make the high-profile announcement himself rather than leaving it to the official responsible was an attempt to bolster his flagging popularity.
"Such schemes should have been announced by the responsible officials. [Leung's] strategy now is to stabilise his core support from the aged," Choy said.
Choy said the lack of detail in Leung's announcement hinted at a problem in the chief executive's style of government. "Whenever he's got a brilliant idea, he can't wait to get it out."
Fermi Wong Wai-fun, executive director of social rights group Unison, welcomed the announcement, but said the barriers facing disabled people were not all physical.
"A more serious barrier concerns culture and perceptions," Wong said. "I can't see [Leung] has done anything yet to help tackle these invisible barriers."