Carrie Lam calls on Legco to approve funding for new-towns project

Acting chief executive warns that Legco failure to approve funding could hit poor, while development minister faces angry villagers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 2014, 9:45am

Acting Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor urged lawmakers to approve preliminary funding for controversial new-town projects in the northeastern New Territories.

She warned that the delay could jeopardise everything from welfare payments to the redevelopment of a hospital and "dash the hopes" of millions.

But last night villagers affected by the scheme urged the government to withdraw the plan as development minister Paul Chan Mo-po met them in Fanling.

About 200 turned up for a consultation session, but dozens stormed out after Chan refused to respond to a request for him to address protesters at the Legislative Council tomorrow, when lawmakers discuss funding.

Lam said the government would not ask for a vote on the funding to be postponed to clear the backlog of non-controversial plans awaiting approval, saying that would be giving in to "radical and violent" protesters and a minority of lawmakers.

Legco's Finance Committee meets again tomorrow to debate whether to approve HK$340 million in preliminary funding for the government's HK$120 billion plan to build the new towns.

It has become a rallying point for residents in the area and activists, who say thousands will lose their homes for a scheme that will largely benefit developers.

Lawmakers have been debating the funding since last month, but a vote was again put on hold last Friday as thousands protested outside the Legco complex - a week after police used pepper spray on activists who tried to storm the building.

The Finance Committee will hold its final meeting before the summer break on July 11, and unless extra meetings are scheduled, any proposals that fail to get through will lapse. The government will have to table them again when Legco next meets in October.

Speaking hours before Chan met the villagers, Lam said that the delay had created a serious backlog.

"Our estimate is that we now have a total of 35 works projects and 41 non-works projects affecting a large number of policy areas, such as production of land to meet housing needs," Lam said, adding that the works and non-works items costing HK$68.9 billion were involved.

Many works could be delayed for six months even if Legco approved them in October, but eight other projects - including reconstruction of Queen Mary Hospital - could be delayed because their tenders would soon expire, Lam warned.

The "aspirations and hopes" of more than 760,000 public housing tenants who would receive a one-month rent waiver, and 1.1 million social-security recipients who are supposed to receive an extra month's payment would also be "dashed" if the proposals were not approved.

Dozens of people were kept outside the meeting in Fanling last night and only villagers who had registered in advance were allowed inside. A woman carrying a baby tried to force her way in, saying the session was a "fake consultation".

Chan reiterated that shelving the plan was not beneficial to Hong Kong, stressing that major work would not start until 2018 and houses would not be demolished before then.