Lawmakers are demanding the government explain whether a shock one-year delay in the construction of the local portion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge will further increase the costs of the mega project.
The government has also come in for fire for its secretive approach in announcing the delay.
Undersecretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu made no mention of it in the Legislative Council on Wednesday when asked about the effect of the project on marine works.
The question was asked by by a legislator from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Steven Ho Chun-yin.
The delay was announced in a Chinese-language statement at 10.59pm on Wednesday and about 3.33am in English.
According to the release by the Highways Department, preliminary forecasts show the local projects of the mega bridge – the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities and the Hong Kong Link Road – may be completed only by the end of 2017, a year later than the planned end of 2016.
The department blames an unstable supply of materials, shortage of labor, restrictions in airport height, constraints in environmental protection requirements and a slower-than- expected consolidation performance of reclamation work.
In defense of the late announcement, Yau said yesterday his bureau noticed “speculation” about the project late in the evening on Wednesday and issued the statement to clarify the matter.
The delay was not a surprise, he said, as it was announced in January the bridge would not be completed next year.
“People have known all along. We just needed time to work out the new completion date,” he said .
Legco approved HK$30.43 billion to build the Hong Kong part of the project in November 2011.
The government has asked Legco to approve another HK$5.4 billion. The public works subcommittee will discuss the funding request on Wednesday. Yau said he does not see any need to increase the amount further.
But Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of the Legco transport panel, said the government must explain whether the delay will affect the progress and costs of the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link.
One part of the link, which connects an artificial island to Lantau, will have its completion date delayed by a year.
It is unclear whether the whole link will run to its original schedule of 2018 and cost projections, Tien said.
Panel vice-chairman Bill Tang Ka- piu criticized the government for releasing information bit by bit – “like pressing on a tube of toothpaste.”
Tang has doubts if the additional funds being sought will cover all parts of the bridge project beyond the artificial island.
He also doubts whether labor and materials are the real reasons behind the delay, especially after the Highways Department admitted earlier that flaws in the reclamation process made some parts of the artificial island move by seven meters.
“Is the delay due to problems with reclamation? Are they sure the problem can be solved in a year? The government should explain.”
Lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the delay will affect tourism as the bridge was expected to bring in visitors from the cities of Zhuhai and Zhongshan. Yiu called on the government to continue planning for the development of Lantau in the meantime.
Lantau Development Advisory Committee members have made suggestions, including housing development in North Lantau, building spa and holiday resorts in the south, and a transport connection to Tai O. A public consultation on the suggestions is expected in two months.
Lantau Development Alliance chairman Allen Ha Wing-on hopes the various parties will be committed to meeting the new completion date.
Chinese University economics professor Terence Chong Tai-leung does not see the delay having a big impact on the economy.
Macau and Zhuhai would benefit more from the bridge, and Hong Kong would see more of a social than economic effect, Chong said.
With transportation made easier, more people may live or retire in the mainland.
Gov’t slammed over timing of release on delay of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.