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Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020

Pan-democrats flex newly acquired political muscle to ask Hong Kong government to scrap plan to build HK$1.7 billion footbridge

Group of 33 district councillors in Yuen Long ask Transport and Housing Bureau to reconsider plan for link between town centre and MTR station. Controversial plan has been in the works for 10 years and some fear it could become a white elephant

Pan-democratic district councillors in Yuen Long have asked the government to drop a controversial HK$1.7 billion footbridge project, the first joint effort by the camp since its landslide victory in last Sunday’s elections.

The 33 newly elected and re-elected councillors wrote to the Highways Department less than a week after the camp took control of 17 of the 18 district councils in the city.

“We decided to take on this issue because it has been on the minds of many Yuen Long residents,” said Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, one of the 33 and a former student leader. “HK$1.7 billion is a huge project, but the effectiveness is not guaranteed.”

The proposed 540-metre footbridge, meant to connect Yuen Long town centre and Long Ping MTR station on the West Rail line, has been in the works since 2009.

Over the years, the project has come under fire for potentially becoming a white elephant from various groups including five professional architectural, design and surveyor bodies, which questioned if the project would be cost effective.

Cheung said other alternatives had already been proposed at much lower costs, and hoped the Transport and Housing Bureau would hold a new public consultation on the matter.

“I hope we can save taxpayer money and come up with a solution that people can actually use,” he said.

Since their crushing victory on Sunday, newly elected councillors – many of whom are independents and new to politics and council work, are brainstorming what to do with their positions, with some seeking advice from incumbents from established political parties.

Observers also wonder if the new faces will be willing to work with veterans from traditional parties.

Five years ago, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects and three other professional groups proposed an alternative: to build only two short bridges and widen the rest of the banks at the Yuen Long Town Nullah, or drain channel. That proposal was estimated at HK$900 million, about half the cost of the government’s proposal.

The Transport and Housing Bureau earlier said the high cost was because of caves under the nullah, which required foundation work laid as deep as 100 metres.

Previously, pro-establishment district councillors had stood firmly behind the plan, urging the government to pass the proposal to provide pedestrians with a safer walking environment following a population boom in Yuen Long.

According to official statistics, the number of residents grew from 534,192 in 2006 to 610,900 in 2016.

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