The row between the government and the Baptist University over the rezoning of a school site escalated yesterday as the health chief waded into the debate.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man rejected the university's claim it had submitted a proposal as early as 2009 for developing a Chinese medical hospital on the site next to its Kowloon Tong campus.
He said any site dedicated for such use should be opened for tender.
"I don't think a public institute would not know that [applying for the site] would require formal procedures," Ko said yesterday.
"Even if the Chinese Medicine Council agrees that there's a demand for the hospital and the government provides the land, the site should be opened for universities to bid [on]."
Ko was responding to a statement released by Baptist University on Monday, which rebutted the Development Bureau's response - in a statement released the same evening - to papers submitted by the university to Kowloon City District Council and the Legislative Council last month.
The row started earlier this year, when the new government proposed rezoning an education site adjacent to the university for luxury residential use.
Opposing the proposal submitted to the Town Planning Board, the university said the site was important for its development as a key player in the city's Chinese medical industry.
University president Albert Chan Sun-chi, who has threatened to resign if the university does not win the site, said building a luxury residential project next to the campus would not fit the educational environment.
He said the university already lacked land to provide 1,700 students with hostel units, and to build a hospital where students could practise Chinese medicine.
According to Chan and his supporting papers, the university had originally eyed the site of Tsim Sha Tsui District Kaifong Welfare Association for the hospital, but gave up because of land ownership problems and difficulties in satisfying fire rules.
The university said it then submitted an informal proposal to the government in 2009, in which it suggested building the hospital on the adjacent site, former home to vocational training institute Lee Wai Lee.
But the Development Bureau said on Monday that land already made available to the university was enough for its future development to 2015.
It added that the site would not necessarily be granted to the university, despite its proximity.
Ko said the university should have applied for the site formally noted and that it had withdrawn the Tsim Sha Tsui proposal only at the end of last month.
Chan said it was "crucial" to keep the Kowloon Tong site for educational use. "We are willing to communicate with the government by any means," he said.