Battle over new towns plan is for the future of Hong Kong, say villagers

Fallout from decision to back funding for plan intensifies, with calls for vote to be overturned as lawmakers threaten challenge in the courts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 June, 2014, 5:41am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 June, 2014, 10:37am

Opponents prepared yesterday for the next stage of the fight against plans for new towns in the northeastern New Territories, while the Legislative Council president rejected claims that Friday's vote on funding for the scheme was "illegitimate".

Villagers who will lose their homes declared they were fighting "for the future of Hong Kong".

They asked the public to join a protest to the Town Planning Board, while lawmakers repeated their intention to ask the courts to overturn Friday's vote in Legco's Finance Committee.

But Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing defended the ballot, which saw the committee vote 29-2 in favour of a HK$340 million request for preliminary funding.

It led to angry scenes, with pan-democrats leaving their seats to berate chairman Ng Leung-sing over his handling of the meeting.

Tsang noted that Legco's legal adviser and secretariat staff were present at the meeting, and they would have alerted Ng if he had failed to conduct the meeting in accordance with Legco's rules of procedure. The pan-democrats "had no intention to return to their seats", he added.

But pan-democrats accused Ng of breaching the rules by not allowing enough time for questions before ordering a vote and for refusing to consider a motion of no confidence in his chairmanship by Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.

Lee said the pan-democratic camp was discussing tactics for its judicial review application.

He said any move could be delayed until September, when the Court of Final Appeal is expected to rule on their challenge to Tsang's earlier decision to end a filibuster over the budget bill.

The ruling would set out more clearly the president's powers.

Development minister Paul Chan Mo-po said his bureau would seek legal advice in the event of a judicial review.

The government says the new towns in Kwu Tung and Fanling are vital to its plans to ease the city's shortage of flats.

But opponents say much of the land will be used for luxury homes and that developers and government "cronies" will be the big winners.

Friday's vote infuriated villagers and activists who gathered outside the meeting. Fanling villager Becky Au Hei-man, a protest organiser, said: "There are more and more people joining the fight.

"It shows that the development of the northeast district is not only about the villages, it is about Hong Kong's future"

She urged objectors to the scheme in a Town Planning Board consultation exercise earlier this year to make themselves heard when the board meets in a few months to debate the plans.

Villagers will lead Tuesday's July 1 pro-democracy march, which is expected to be one of the biggest protests in years.