The government yesterday moved to cool feelings over a new town project near the border ahead of Saturday's public forum expected to be attended by thousands of angry villagers who fear being displaced in the interests of mainlanders.
Officials sought to dismiss concerns the three planned towns in the northeast New Territories would become the "backyard" of Shenzhen, with visa-free entry and investment opportunities for rich mainlanders.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said accusations of selling out Hong Kong to mainlanders were "totally unfounded".
"I'm surprised at the false claims … I believe Hong Kong people who have lived with new town developments over the past 50 years will understand why we need to develop more of them to satisfy the needs of the population," she said.
Most of the 6,000 who signed up for the final consultation session of the project are non-indigenous villagers, who face being displaced without the compensation paid to indigenous landowners. Supporters of activist campaigns against the project were also expected to attend tomorrow's forum.
Opponents complain the three-town project will raze thousands of homes and farms. They fear that "economic integration", highlighted in consultation documents as a key purpose of the development, will pave the way for lifting physical barriers along the border.
Their fears were deepened when Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in June that he planned to allow mainlanders to enter Hong Kong's border area - near the proposed new towns - without a visa.
The project covers Fanling North, Kwu Tung North and Ta Kwu Ling, together with Ping Che. It is intended to provide 53,800 homes for 152,000 people.
Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po said there were no plans to build the new towns as Shenzhen's backyard or an area for mainlanders to arrive visa-free, "nor is it a town planned exclusively for millionaires or mainland parents".
Meanwhile, research by the Conservancy Association in Fanling has found that one of the affected villages, Ma Shi Po, has an agricultural history going back for at least a century. Among the evidence is a stone plaque on Sha Tau Kok Road recording a HK$2,090 restoration project for an irrigation reservoir in 1908.