Paul Chan

Minister tells forum plans for New Territories new towns will go ahead

6,000 people attend chaotic public forum over plans to develop northeastern New Territories; Paul Chan signals determination to build homes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 3:08am

A public forum on government plans to develop new towns near the border with Shenzhen descended into chaos yesterday but left officials determined to push the scheme through.

At a fiery open-air consultation in Sheung Shui attended by 6,000 people, many chanting and waving banners, Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the project would not be shelved.

He said the final round of consultations, which ends this month, would not be extended.

Many groups oppose the plans to build three new towns on 787 hectares of land in the northeastern New Territories; some residents want to hang on to their land. But others would move in return for compensation. Yesterday's meeting in Man Kok village, Sheung Shui, was repeatedly interrupted by scuffles between supporters and opponents of the plans.

The government, having caved in to pressure on national education in schools and multi-entry visitor permits for an additional 4.1 milllion people in Shenzhen, needs to win the battle over the new towns to keep its credibility. The fact that its opponents are not united could work in its favour.

Chan said one argument for the development was undeniable - everyone wants somewhere to live.

"I wish the public would understand that the land supply in Hong Kong is really limited," Chan told the crowd at the beginning of the forum. "The New Territories are the major source of our land supply. It is inevitable that the land will be needed for development."

Throughout the three-hour forum, villagers, environmentalists and social activists waved banners and chanted slogans. The moderator repeatedly appealed for the crowd of 6,000 to remain calm and rational.

A representative of villagers who will be displaced under the plan made an emotional plea for them to be allowed to stay in their homeland. "We do not want any compensation, and we will not move off our land. Please return the land to the farmers," said Cho Kai-kai, who represents an anti- development group formed by villagers from Sheung Shiu, Fanling North and Sai Kung.

As Cho was speaking, a supporter of the plan jostled her. He said his village in Sheung Shui supported the plans, and urged the government to extend them to include their land.

Police eventually intervened to separate supporters and opponents so speakers could express their views.

Another fight started between villagers who support the project and protesters with a dragon-and-lion flag symbolising the autonomy of Hong Kong. Some activists fear the new towns will form a special economic zone with visa-free access for mainlanders.

Chan was finally escorted from the venue by 30 police officers, but protesters still managed to throw a water bottle at the minister, which missed, and break through police lines to briefly encircle his car.