Three new towns being planned in the northern New Territories will not be open to mainlanders on a visa-on-arrival basis, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday, although she was vague on the idea of the policy for the border area. The idea of offering a visa on arrival to mainlanders entering the 2,400-hectare border area was put forward by the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, a body of advisers to the government including Executive Councillor Cheung Chi-kong. But reports that the scheme could be extended to new towns in Fanling North, Kwu Tung, Ta Kwu Ling and Ping Che angered groups opposed to their construction. It is understood officials may extend a consultation exercise on the towns beyond the end of this month. On Tuesday, Ta Kung Pao quoted Fang Zhou, a researcher at the institute, as saying the government was looking at turning the border area into a visa-free zone to encourage development and integration with Shenzhen. Apple Daily reported yesterday that the three new towns, which are intended to help solve the city's housing problems, could be opened up to mainlanders as satellite towns for a new economic centre at the border. Lam denied the latter report, saying the towns "are being planned for Hong Kong's public interest." Cheung, the institute's chief executive, said the visa-on-arrival scheme would "match local expertise with the huge market demand of the mainland" and bring local jobs. The idea was part of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's election manifesto "but not yet official policy", he said. Chan Kim-ching, a member of a concern group opposed to the new towns, said: "The government says the towns are only for satisfying the housing needs of Hongkongers, but we suspect it is hiding a real intention to serve mainland interests."