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Greater Bay Area

Delay to Hong Kong’s new HK$33.7 billion border crossing to Shenzhen adds to woes for troubled contractor

Leighton Contractors (Asia) is building checkpoint’s HK$7.1 billion passenger terminal facilities but expected 2018 completion date cannot be met, sources say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 8:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 11:19am

A multibillion-dollar border crossing to Shenzhen will be delayed until at least the middle of next year with an already troubled contractor plagued by problems building related facilities, the Post has learned.

The overbudget HK$33.7 billion Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai boundary control point in the northeastern New Territories was due to be completed by the end of this year. It was allocated HK$25 billion (US$3.2 billion) but hit by cost overruns of about HK$8.7 billion in 2015.

Leighton Contractors (Asia) – recently barred from tendering for government projects for 15 months after shoddy work was exposed on Hong Kong’s costliest rail link – is the main firm on the HK$7.1 billion contract for the passenger terminal building and associated facilities.

Sources said work had been beset by delays. Aerial footage taken by the Post shows that the terminal building on the Shenzhen side, in contrast, looks ready for immediate use.

In her policy address on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor briefly touched on the project, which started in 2013 and would be the city’s seventh border crossing to Shenzhen, saying only that it was expected “to be completed in 2019”. She gave no further details or explanations.

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In a reply to the Post’s inquiries, the Architectural Services Department, which commissioned the project, also played down the delay. It did not explain why it failed to tell the public or the Legislative Council about the issue at the earliest possible time.

“As with other projects procured by the Architectural Services Department, the completion date of the project … would be reviewed and, where necessary, extended according to the contract provisions,” a department spokeswoman said.

She said the project had been “affected by inclement weather” but gave no details.

“Based on the recent assessment, the project is expected to be completed in 2019. The cost of delay, if any, will be assessed and recovered in accordance with the contract provisions,” she added.

Various sources said the boundary crossing could not be completed until at least the middle of next year because of delays to work on the buildings.

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“Staff are still working on the internal structure of the passenger terminal building. The floors are still not completely done and in need of paving. Other facilities such as the fire station and the police station are still being constructed. The whole project will need until at least the summer of next year to be completed,” a source familiar with the scheme said.

Leighton did not reply to the Post’s inquiries.

The Post visited the site on Thursday and found the main building and the nearby facilities still under scaffolding. Cranes and trucks covered the site. Some floors and roads had only been gravelled. The Post was told about 10,000 staff worked at the site.

Another insider said the delay was caused by labour disputes between Leighton and its subcontractors.

“It’s very common for Leighton to delay payments to its subcontractors. When the workers haven’t received their payments, usually they will suspend work until they are paid. The delay will result in [the project needing] extra funding from the government,” the source said.

In August this year, 100 workers protested outside the site, saying they were owed a total of HK$5 million in unpaid wages.

They accused Leighton of failing to make timely payments to its subcontractor. The dispute was later settled.

I don’t know why the government has acted so secretly about the progress of this project
Tanya Chan, Civic Party lawmaker

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan accused the government of a lack of transparency.

“I don’t know why the government has acted so secretly about the progress of this project. Why did it suddenly announce the delay at the last minute without giving any details?” she said. “The government should give the public a full account of the delay and what follow-up action it will take.”

Chan was alarmed that cost overruns and delays had become the norm.

“It seems the government now treats cost overruns and project delays as nothing. This attitude is really wrong and unacceptable,” she said.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said: “l need to check with the government to see if the delay has something to do with Leighton.”

The checkpoint project, on an 18-hectare site near Chuk Yuen Village, includes the main building, a public transport interchange, a government and public car park, a back-of-house area and a passenger hall block.

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The sources said other major works related to the project such as an 11km Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai link including a 4.8km tunnel to connect the control point with Fanling Highway were on schedule.

According to government forecasts, the border control point is expected to handle about 30,000 passenger trips and 17,850 vehicular trips per day.

Leighton and three other contractors embroiled in the construction scandal on the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin to Central rail link have been barred from bidding for government contracts for various periods.