Hong Kong rural leaders, groups cry foul over ‘shockingly’ rushed Legco funding bid by city’s government for new border town

Gigi Choy
·4-min read

A government plan to build a new town near the border with mainland China was “shockingly” rushed and presented to the legislature for a funding bid, rural leaders and groups in Hong Kong have said, insisting they have not been properly consulted.

The Development Bureau submitted a paper to the Legislative Council on Monday, stating that it would make a funding request in the second quarter of the year for HK$994.6 million (US$128 million) to conduct investigations and detailed works design for the first phase of the New Territories North (NT North) project, and to kick-start planning and engineering studies for the second phase.

The project is earmarked as one of the two long-term sources of land supply for Hong Kong, along with a reclamation plan off the waters of Lantau Island, according to the bureau.

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“Commanding a strategic boundary location, with easy access to Shenzhen ... the NT North developments will … tap into the fast-growing regional economy in the Greater Bay Area and meet the economic challenges ahead,” the bureau said in the paper.

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The proposal, to be discussed by Legco’s development panel next Monday, did not come attached with a feasibility study which was launched in 2019. The bureau only said the study had been “substantially completed”, presenting an initial land-use plan and some basic planning parameters in the document.

The first phase of the project, covering 320 hectares across Lok Ma Chau and San Tin, will yield 31,000 flats for 84,000 people, with the first population intake in 2032. It will create 64,000 jobs across different sectors, including innovation and technology, as well as commerce.

One-sixth, or 57 hectares, of the space will be reserved for an “enterprise and technology park” for advanced manufacturing, and will reinforce Hong Kong’s position as an international innovation and technology hub in the bay area.

The second and final phase, covering Heung Yuen Wai, which has an existing border-crossing point, Ping Che, Ta Kwu Ling, Queen’s Hill and Man Kam To, will have the potential to accommodate a population of no fewer than 200,000 and generate 134,000 jobs. No implementation timeline has been given.

Half of the entire project area involves private land, with some being brownfield sites, which are primarily agricultural land occupied for industrial, storage or logistic uses.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Sam Tsang
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Sam Tsang

In November, city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government would expedite the plan for the Northern Link railway to stimulate growth in areas such as San Tin and Lok Ma Chau.

Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng also told residents the city’s housing problem had to be solved, and that Hong Kong should strive to integrate into the bay area plan.

While the bureau said it had held talks with Yuen Long District Council on March 17, council chairman Zachary Wong Wai-yin accused the government of moving “shockingly fast” to request funding for the studies.

“We didn’t have an opportunity to do our own community consultation. There was no time for us to digest the information at the [March] session, so the comments we gave were not very comprehensive,” he said. “That meeting was more like a formality, and I expected they would come back.”

Farmland in Ping Che in Hong Kong’s New Territories, with Shenzhen’s Lo Wu district in the background. Photo: Roy Issa
Farmland in Ping Che in Hong Kong’s New Territories, with Shenzhen’s Lo Wu district in the background. Photo: Roy Issa

The Post has contacted the bureau for comment.

The bureau said in the paper it would further engage with stakeholders and provide information to them when ready.

Wong said that in the past, authorities would usually hold a briefing session for the district council to inform members of a development plan. The councillors would then gauge views from their community before making them known when there was an official consultation. This process applied to projects including Yuen Long South and Hung Shui Kiu.

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The bureau had said in the Legco paper it was “arranging” to consult the San Tin Rural Committee.

Man Fu-wan, former chairman of the committee, warned that the government would take time to buy back private land which took up half of the site. “The Man clan has been rooted here for 600 years, we feel we are not respected.”

Francis Lam Ka-fai, chairman of the Institute of Surveyor’s planning and development division, said officials had to accelerate the project to meet its 10-year housing supply target.

He suggested setting up a coordination office led by a senior official who could overcome red tape.

“It’s also important to engage with Shenzhen, especially to create more job opportunities, otherwise it would be a waste of the New Territories North development’s strategic location,” he said.

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