A proposal to spend an extra HK$8.2 billion of public money on building the Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai border crossing cleared an early hurdle yesterday, when it scraped through a vote by a Legislative Council panel by a one-vote margin.
With some members voicing concern that infrastructure spending was spiralling out of control, the council's development panel voted 12 to 11 in favour of raising the project's budget to HK$24.5 billion - a 50 per cent increase on the project's original budget of HK$16.25 billion, passed by Legco's Finance Committee in July 2012.
Despite the support, the budget proposal must still be scrutinised by the public works subcommittee before it goes to the Finance Committee to seek final approval.
With the narrow margin and the abstention of the Federation of Trade Unions, which said it would wait to see whether the project would involve importing labour, the additional funding still faces uncertainty.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the New People's Party and the Business and Professionals Alliance supported the motion while pan-democrats and the Liberal Party opposed it.
Yesterday's vote came after the panel vetoed the government's attempt to seek a further HK$8.5 billion for the project last month. The government cited rising construction costs and poor ground conditions as the reasons for the budget overrun. To sway lawmakers, it trimmed the request by HK$300 million.
Panel members were unanimous in criticising the administration for failing to keep to the original budget, but some said they had little option other than to approve the request, given that construction had already begun.
"It is no longer meaningful to argue whether the crossing should be built now. We cannot leave a multibillion-dollar project unfinished," said Chan Kin-por, lawmaker for the insurance functional constituency.
Others said the border crossing was not urgently needed and should be delayed. This, they reasoned, could cut costs by avoiding a period of high demand in the construction industry.
"When the government built the Shenzhen Bay Port [crossing], it projected that over 40,000 vehicle trips would be made through there per day. But now the traffic flow is only some 10,000 vehicle trips per day. With this underuse, it is not so urgent to build another border crossing," said the Democratic Party's Wu Chi-wai.
Lawmakers expressed concern that spending on infrastructure was getting out of control.
Recent major projects that have gone over budget include the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Central-Wan Chai bypass and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
The administration insisted the border crossing should not be postponed. "Delaying the works will not help cut costs," said Hon Chi-keung, the director of civil engineering and development.
He said he was "very confident" the works "can be completed within the [new] budget".