Opposition to a government plan to relocate a job training centre for disabled teenagers to make way for a civil service college snowballed on Sunday as about 800 students, parents and concerned residents surrounded the building in Kwun Tong in a show of solidarity against the scheme.
About 7,700 people have signed a petition opposing the contentious project – announced last month by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address – to redevelop a 118,000 sq ft site where the Shine Skills Centre, run by the Vocational Training Council, is located.
While officials insist the plan will not affect current students, legislators and parents are worried the move shows the government is becoming less supportive of young people with special needs.
A parent surnamed Man said: “Ordinary children and their parents have a lot of primary and secondary schools, as well as universities, to choose from. But that’s not the case for my kid and other children from special schools.
“Lam, as our chief executive, should be more understanding of these children and parents. It’s already very hard for parents like us.”
Under the government’s plan, the centre, which offers 300 two-year vocational training places for those aged 15 or above with disabilities, will be shut down and demolished in 2021. It will be replaced by a civil service academy, a district health centre and other community facilities.
The project was estimated to cost between HK$6 billion (US$769 million) and HK$7 billion, and slated for completion in 2026.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong defended the plan last month, stressing that the 650 or so full- and part-time students, who spend two years at the centre, as well as those enrolling next year, would not be affected by the relocation plan.
Law also said a site in Kowloon had been identified for a new vocational training centre providing more admission spaces, and would be up and running by September 2021. The new centre would be run by NGOs subsidised by the Social Welfare Department.
Students enrolling in 2020 would be affected by the relocation, Law added, but they could choose either to attend another integrated vocational training centre in the 2021/22 school year, or study an “intensive” version of their courses in one year, instead of the original two.
Law also said the building housing the Shine Skills Centre was 50 years old and needed redevelopment.
Cheung countered on Sunday that it was weird for the government to terminate the council’s operation at the Shine centre.
“It was fine for the government to redevelop the building … but now the government is ending a service that was doing well and moving students [enrolling in 2020] to a new place for good,” he said.
Lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector, said the government could avoid trouble by building the civil service college on the newly identified site instead.
“Civil servants are not short of training facilities … There is no need to rush with the plan to relocate the disabled people’s centre,” Ip said.
A spokesman for the Labour and Welfare Bureau said on Sunday it would ensure the transition would be smooth in executing the relocation plan.