A plan to pour another HK$8.5 billion into the construction of a northeastern border project linking to Shenzhen failed to get past lawmakers in a vote yesterday.
The Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai crossing, for which HK$16.25 billion has already been set aside by the government, is the second works project in five days to face budget problems, after legislators halted funding for RTHK's planned new headquarters.
Two more legislative bodies are set to vote on the cross-border link, with the Finance Committee having the final say.
Yesterday, members of the Legislative Council's development panel blamed the concentration of major works projects within a few years for a rise in construction costs, which was seen as the biggest reason behind the government's bid for extra funds. "Will the cost increase be lower if projects are spread out across different times?" Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing asked.
The HK$8.5 billion accounts for more than half of the budget, approved in July 2012.
Lawmakers questioned whether the project must be finished by 2018. The work began in 2003 to link the northeastern New Territories with Shenzhen. The project includes a checkpoint, a new road connecting it with Fanling Highway, a tunnel and five cross-border bridges.
Joining the chorus of doubts was the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which said the crossing might not be needed urgently.
"We supported this project. But now is there really no space to postpone it?" lawmaker Ip Kwok-him said. The DAB abstained from voting.
The administration insisted on its timetable. Hon Chi-keung, director of the Civil Engineering and Development Department, warned that delays could lead to further cost increases.
New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee agreed. Ip and engineering-sector legislator Dr Lo Wai-kwok were the only two panel members who backed the funding application, while 10 pan-democrats voted against it.
The government can press ahead with its application at the public works subcommittee and the Finance Committee.
The subcommittee, meanwhile, agreed to let the government table to the Finance Committee its request for HK$7.93 billion more to continue with controversial road works.
The Transport and Housing Bureau wants the extra cash for the Central-Wan Chai bypass and its link to the Island Eastern Corridor, bringing the revised total cost to HK$36 billion.
Official estimates of public works projects came under fire as being unreliable. The Labour Party's Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung suggested reviewing the way that costs were assessed.
Deputy secretary for development Chan Chi-ming said the government had sought more funding for only 34 of its 600 projects in the past decade.
Undersecretary for transport and housing Yau Shing-mu said the existing assessment mechanism was appropriate.