Big cuts to cost of border crossing ruled out
Development officials have trimmed the cost of a new border crossing point by just 1.2 per cent, effectively stonewalling a demand by legislators to reduce its soaring price tag.
They also dismissed money-saving suggestions from lawmakers, arguing that their ideas would end up increasing the total cost of the Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai border control point.
The Legislative Council's Finance Committee originally approved HK$16.25 billion for the checkpoint in 2012. But the government late last year asked for a further HK$8.5 billion to meet rising construction costs, blaming the increase on heavy engineering work, poor ground conditions and rising wages.
But, alarmed by the 50 per cent increase in the budget amid a string of government requests for extra cash for public works projects, Legco's development panel voted down the funding request in January and demanded cost reductions.
A Development Bureau spokesman said yesterday that no further cuts were possible.
"We have conducted a thorough review of the scale and scope of the project and found there was no room for further reductions," he said.
After updates based on inflation and actual expenditure incurred so far, the overall cost of the project is now put at HK$24.5 billion, down from HK$24.8 billion in January - a cut of 1.2 per cent. A revised funding request is expected to go before the panel later this month.
"As works have started, we have reached the point where there is nothing more to trim, and further delays to the project will do no one any good," the spokesman added.
But panel member Albert Chan Wai-yip, of People Power, said: "If the government refuses to cut costs, we shall continue to vote no to the funding request.
"I don't think it is a big deal if the project is delayed for several years. Maybe the costs will drop if we build it after the building boom in the next few years."
According to the bureau's projections, the project could cost HK$4.2 billion more if delayed for a further three years.
Expanding existing roads rather than building a new, 11-kilometre stretch of highway to the checkpoint - another idea from lawmakers - could push up costs by HK$8 billion, the bureau said. "Expanding the existing countryside roads won't mean we can cope with traffic growth in the long run," the spokesman said. "At the end of the day, we will still need the highway link."
The spokesman added: "We are confident the panel will endorse it this time. We have followed up the suggestions members raised last time."
The extra cash, if approved, will see the new crossing - situated between the Man Kam To and Sha Tau Kok crossings in the northeastern New Territories - completed on time in 2018 to provide better access to eastern Shenzhen.
Lawmakers also rejected a funding request for RTHK's new headquarters. The Central-Wan Chai bypass is among several other projects that are over budget as construction costs soar.