Finance chief urges lawmakers to back funding for new towns, despite protests

Financial chief urges lawmakers to back funding for plan despite protests

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 4:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 10:03am

Garnering support from all seven million Hongkongers for controversial plans to build two new towns in the northeastern New Territories would be impossible, the financial chief said as he urged lawmakers to approve preliminary funding for the scheme.

John Tsang Chun-wah said on his blog that a filibuster attempt in the Legislative Council's Finance Committee over a government request for HK$340 million for preliminary work had created a backlog of 50 funding applications, delaying other government policies.

The new-town plan has attracted angry protests amid accusations that villagers will see their rural way of life come to an end for a scheme opponents say will largely benefit developers and investors. But Tsang said the government could hardly be expected to get the whole city behind a plan before seeking funding for it.

"Should the government adjourn projects whenever there is opposition from the public?" Tsang asked on his blog. "Should the government defer projects, or set them aside completely? Even if the projects are deferred with a view to narrowing down the opposing views, could it actually prevent future filibusters? If projects are to be abandoned for good, should we allow everything to remain unchanged without making any progress?"

He cited examples of government policies that could be delayed by the impasse over new towns, including schools for children with special needs and the rebuilding of Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.

"A 'perfect outcome' of a full consensus of all seven million people does not necessarily come along and is even harder to pursue," Tsang said of efforts to promote the plan. "Hence, it requires compromise."

The government says the HK$120 billion project will offer 36,600 subsidised flats and 24,100 private homes, making it a key pillar of plans to build 210,000 homes in the next decade to rein in soaring prices and reduce the waiting time for public housing.

Development chief Paul Chan Mo-po also blogged on the project yesterday, writing that the new towns in Kwu Tung North and Fanling could help alleviate a chronic shortage of homes.

In the face of claims that other sites could be used for the schemes - including golf courses and the chief executive's country residence in Fanling - Chan insisted that allowing the thousand who would be displaced by the project to stay in their homes was impossible. Chan came under fire last year when he declared that his family owned land affected by the scheme.

A Finance Committee meeting on the funding request was abandoned without a vote for the second time in as many weeks on Friday amid protests outside the Legislative Council building. The discussion is scheduled to resume this Friday.