Marginal progress in airport talks

THE Sino-British talks on the Chek Lap Kok airport financial arrangements, which resumed yesterday after a nine-month delay, ended without an agreement.

The two teams were unable to fix a date for the next meeting, but agreed that expert-level discussions should be held soon on the disposal of land along the airport railway.

It is understood the two sides came closer to an agreement on financial and cost-monitoring arrangements.

The British team gave a written reply to a list of questions raised by China about the Airport Corporation Bill. Governor Chris Patten said the talks were useful and had made some progress.

''We have lifted off but we haven't yet made a landing. But I think it took matters forward and I very much hope that it will bring the end of this saga a good deal closer,'' he said.

Emerging from the three-hour talks, British team leader Hugh Davies said: ''I can't say that we made as much progress as we had hoped. But on the other hand, there has certainly been a very positive atmosphere and we are moving in the right direction.'' Apparently dissatisfied with the progress, Mr Davies said: ''From our perspective, we can reach an agreement very rapidly.'' Chinese team leader Guo Fengmin described the meeting as making ''encouraging progress''.

He said the Chinese team would try its best to reach an agreement on the financing package as soon as possible.