Four public housing towers will be built on the seafront at Tung Chung after a U-turn by the government. It had put the project on hold in the face of opposition from residents who paid high prices to enjoy a similar view.
District councillors said residents felt outraged and helpless after learning yesterday that the plan, which involves 32,500 square metres of reclaimed land, was going ahead.
Secretary for Housing and Transport Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said in a reply to lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung that foundation work had started in May and the project was expected to be completed in 2016. Four 41-storey rental blocks will be built, housing 9,900 people.
In June, development minister Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor - who is now chief secretary - said the project had been put on hold because of strong opposition from nearby residents.
Cheung made no mention of this in his statement.
Islands District councillor Chau Chuen-heung said it was unfair the project was going ahead when private buyers and tenants had to pay a lot of money for similar sites in the area.
Chau, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said she noticed pile-driving had begun three months ago and suggested to party chairman Tam that he query the project.
"I don't understand it," she said. "The government briefed the District Council in 2011, but we expressed opposition. There has been no new information since then. The government is ignoring the public's voice, and there's nothing we can do now."
She said conflict might arise between residents in nearby private estates and those in the public housing. The site was not suitable for public rental flats because of a lack of transport links and job opportunities, she added.
Another councillor, Jeff Lam Yuet, who represents residents in private estates Caribbean Coast and Coastal Skyline, said the decision could lead to demonstrations.
"I am against any kind of subsidised housing at the site. But since piling has started, I hope it can be turned into housing [for sale] under the Home Ownership Scheme or My Home Purchase Plan," he said, referring to two subsidised programmes.
He said it was a waste of land resources to build public flats on the seafront site, which could be sold for a high price. "I can't say they did not consult us, as they did come to the District Council - but they ignored our views."
Cheung said new roads would be built to connect different sites in the area. A car park, open space and retail facilities would also be constructed, he said.