Building work for a colossal project to divert water from the Yangtze River Basin to northern China will start soon, Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng said. Speaking on the sidelines of the NPC session yesterday, Mr Wang said the ministry had finished planning the project. 'We will submit the plan to the State Council soon after the NPC session. If approved, construction will start immediately,' he said. Mr Wang said construction of the eastern and central routes - two 1,200km channels to take water from the Yangtze River in the south to the northern plain - would start concurrently. However, he dismissed claims that water prices would be unaffordable after the project's completion. 'When we made the overall plan, we considered affordability as a benchmark for the size of loans we should take out. The more we borrowed, the more expensive the water price. 'Therefore, the Government will inject 80 per cent of the funds required by the project. Only 20 per cent of the investment is funded by loans.' He said that after some adjustments, the first phase of the project would cost about 100 billion yuan (HK$94 billion). There has been much controversy over how to fund the project. The ministry originally hoped to ask provinces that would benefit from the project to foot the bill but it received stiff resistance at local level. Mr Wang did not give details yesterday about how the cost would be shared out by the central and local governments, but Beijing city - at the far end of the water channel - will have to pay the highest price of all the cities along the route. Mr Wang said that when the project is completed, the city will have to pay one yuan per cubic metre of water. 'That is the price we can say. As for how much the consumer has to pay, that has to do with Beijing city,' he said. But a senior government official said that after taking into consideration the cost of constructing water pipes and tanks, Beijing consumers would have to pay five yuan per cubic metre. And some scholars have estimated the water price could rise to six yuan. Water in Beijing currently costs about 2.5 yuan per cubic metre. Mr Wang also moved to assuage fears over the project's feasibility, saying: 'There should not be any problem with the technology as the construction is not that complicated.'