A senior planning official has dismissed fears that a joint study to plot development in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong will infringe on the city's autonomy.
'The conceptual study is a platform for exchanging information,' said Ling Kar-kan, deputy director of planning. 'It will not result in any new-town initiatives or large-scale building works in addition to what we have proposed before.'
Ling was responding to criticism by activists and lawmakers that the study contained few details and was not publicised. Legislators in Hong Kong and Macau have demanded that their governments consult them on the planning proposals and disclose details. Ling said the study - titled 'The Action Plan for the Bay Area of the Pearl River Estuary' - was only a summary of existing urban planning proposals separately prepared by governments in the region.
But he admitted a public consultation exercise on the proposals could have been done better.
'We seek to share experience in building our own 'liveable cities', finding ways to improve quality of life other than economic development. It's an attempt to build a brand name for the estuary area,' he said.
Since the study was launched in April, the Hong Kong government has organised only a half-day public forum, on January 29.
The study was jointly produced by authorities in Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Zhongshan with the aim of improving the region's quality of life.
The plan sees the region becoming a 'bay for quality living', building on an advanced public transport network, residential communities with diversified housing types and adequate infrastructure. The plan envisages the region excelling in scientific research and development, boosting its service sector and expanding as a financial and transport hub.
Hong Kong projects mentioned in the document include new towns in the northern New Territories and a northern MTR link, but they were proposed before the joint study and would need to go through the usual legal and consultation procedures, Ling said.
'We are aware of citizens' growing concern about the integration of Hong Kong into the mainland,' Ling said. 'Perhaps it is the language in the consultation document, which was written by mainland consultants and may contain more mainland-style slogans.' The deputy director dismissed warnings from some activists that the study would impose a new planning blueprint on Hong Kong, and maintained his department had full autonomy in such matters.
He said the consultation, which ends tomorrow, would not be extended as some activists had demanded. 'We will always accept the views of members of the public. The deadline is not a statutory date to close the matter,' he said.
Ling acknowledged the public consultation could have been better presented. He said the maps were low-resolution and promised that a final report would contain more details and be available in English.
In Hong Kong, the Democratic Party and independent lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan want the consultation period extended by three months, and for planning officials to go to Legco to explain the study.
Macau legislator Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong made similar demands.