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SCMP: Airport Authority under pressure to lift lid on commercial project

from Olga Wong and Tanna Chong of the SCMP:

Four board members of the Airport Authority have called for details about options to develop a commercial project, putting pressure on the management to lift the lid on its inner dealings.

The calls came as media this week exposed a feud between the authority chairman and his likely successor over the project on the airport premises.

At stake is the proposed construction of a third runway, which may be delayed further if a depot for a driverless electric train is built near it. If, however, the depot is set up under the commercial project – as chairman Marvin Cheung Kin-tung has insisted on – detractors including his perceived replacement Vincent Lo Hung-sui fear it will devalue the 120,000 square metre site, which is to feature hotels and a shopping centre. Four of the 16 board members approached by the South China Morning Post yesterday voiced concerns about the development, to be called the North Commercial District.

The vision for the Third-Runway plan. The 'commercial project' in question relates to the Terminal 2 expansion, which is expected to handle the passenger flow on the new apron. (HKIA)

All four said more data was necessary before any decision could be made. One member, who declined to be named, agreed with Lo that the train depot should be moved away from the district to make way for a better development. “But we need to know how [it should be relocated] and whether there are enough visitors to support the project, given the under-utilisation of the AsiaWorld-Expo next door,” he said. On Tuesday, property developer Lo, who also sits on the board, said “unco-operative senior management” had held up information that would help the authority’s planning committee make an informed decision on ways to develop the area.

Lo said he quit as chairman of the committee, while remaining on the board, because of disagreements with Cheung. The train depot was originally designed to be housed underneath the district, to be located between Terminal 2 and the AsiaWorld-Expo. Lo favoured shifting it away in order to maximise the development potential of the site.

Cheung is said to oppose any relocation, as it could delay the runway, slated to open in 2023. Another board member told the Post that moving the depot to reclaimed land near the runway would push back an environmental impact assessment of the airstrip by a few months. If the planning application is postponed as a result, a new runway may not be finished until 2024. The relocation would also affect access to SkyPier, which would provide a ferry service for passengers to the Pearl River Delta and needed the driverless train, the member said. The district was given priority in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s policy address in January. Leung wanted the development accelerated as it would put more commercial land on the market amid an acute land shortage.

On Tuesday, Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung stopped short of saying the delay to the runway was acceptable. But he said both the runway and the district should go ahead. Lawmaker Chan Kam-lam, who sits on both the board and the planning committee, said: “We can’t really make a good decision without access to key data, such as the precise extra time needed, cost differences and number of visitors who may be attracted to the district.” Fellow board members Miriam Lau Kin-yee and Caroline Mak Sui-king also called for more data. “I would like to see the ‘price tags’ of the different options,” Lau said. The board is expected to meet on the project next month.

21 Nov 2013

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