A private consultant’s reports on the Wang Chau public housing project in Yuen Long have reinforced allegations by some lawmakers that powerful rural leaders were behind the government’s decision to develop the area in phases instead of all at once as originally planned.
In response to requests from two newly elected lawmakers, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Edward Yiu Chung-yim, the government on Tuesday released 16 technical feasibility reports, which were submitted between 2012 and 2014 by the engineering consultancy group Ove Arup on the project, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The reports, consisting of 3,000 pages, cover multiple issues concerning the project, including transport, terrain, water and electricity supply, and the environment.
Ove Arup said there were technical problems regarding ecological conservation and infrastructure in the central and northern parts of Wang Chau, which the government later designated as the second and third phases of the project.
While citing these problems, the company did not suggest phased development of the project in its reports.
According to the reports, building a total of 16,975 units in the project to accommodate 52,113 people is feasible.
However, the government has decided to build only 4,000 units in the first phase, and whether the rest of the planned 17,000 units will be built later as it promised remains a question.
In the reports, Ove Arup warned the government could run into problems during the process of land resumption because a large part of the area required for the project consists of brownfields, or land that has been zoned for industrial or commercial use but is now mainly used for other purposes such as storage dumps.
The company recommended that the government conduct public consultation before it went ahead with the project.
Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying said in September that he made the decision to build 4,000 units in the first phase based on his understanding of “potential difficulties” in the project.
Ove Arup refused to release portions of the reports that contain “sensitive information”, involving third-party land and finances, in order to protect the privacy of those concerned.
A government source said the consultancy company only stated its opinions based on technical factors, but the reality is that local stakeholders’ opinions and the government’s review of its brownfield policies must also be considered.
The source stressed there was no exchange of interest during unofficial communications, or “soft lobbying”, between the government and the rural landlords.
Edward Yiu, who won a seat for the architecture functional constituency in the Legislative Council election in September, did not buy such an explanation, saying there must be other reasons why the government opted for a phased development of the project, which the consultant did not suggest anywhere in its reports.
He said he is sure soft lobbying had everything to do with the government’s final decision.
Eddie Chu has alleged that the government scaled down the project upon the request of certain village leaders, whose business would be affected if the brownfield sites were redeveloped for public housing.
[Chinese version 中文版]
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