In a last-ditch effort to defuse a potential political crisis over plans for three new towns near the border, the development minister suggested yesterday that some of the flats could be reserved for Hong Kong buyers.
Paul Chan Mo-po was speaking a day before he was due to attend today's open-air forum in Sheung Shui, where more than 6,000 people, including villagers to be displaced by the project, are expected to call on him to scrap it.
The development in the northeastern New Territories is seen as the administration's next political hot potato after a plan to introduce national education ran into strong opposition.
Under consultation since 2008, the project met increasing opposition only this year, as sentiments mounted against "economic integration" with the mainland. Anxieties deepened as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying talked of allowing mainlanders into the border area near the three towns without a visa.
Chan said in a radio interview that the "Hong Kong property for Hong Kong residents" scheme could apply to some of the sites for land sale in future. "We are considering whether to introduce the scheme," he said.
But a league of villagers said the locals-only rule was not enough to address their demands of "no removal and no demolition".
The project, covering Fanling North, Kwu Tung North and Ta Kwu Ling together with Ping Che, will affect 10,000 residents. It is intended to provide 53,800 homes for 152,000 people. The government estimated it would have to spend HK$40 billion to assemble land ownerships from developers and rural landlords.
Five newly elected lawmakers from the pan-democratic camp in the New Territories East constituency want the project to be halted, saying the government should start the consultation again to minimise the impact on villagers and active farmland.
Stewart Leung Chi-kin, chairman of the Real Estate Developers Association's executive committee, joined the opposing voices, saying the government should keep its earlier promise to allow developers who had acquired land in the areas to take part in the project.