Government Hill zoning plan 'violates guideline'
An independent lobby group is accusing the government of violating a Town Planning Board guideline in pushing ahead with its demolition plan for Government Hill in Central.
Under the revised plan Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced last week that the west wing would make way for a 32-storey tower built under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, a public-private partnership scheme.
Lam said last week the site would remain a 'government, institution or community' zone, and that to reflect the semi-public nature of the future site, rezoning was unnecessary.
However a Town Planning Board guideline states that if a development is mostly for non-government use - with more than 50 per cent of the gross floor area, for example, allocated to commercial space - it may consider rezoning the site. This would mean the public would have the opportunity to lodge objections.
About 70 per cent of the office tower, with a gross floor area of 40,300 square metres, would be dedicated to commercial space, while the rest would have a government, institution or community use.
Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of lobby group Professional Commons, said: 'Rezoning would require a three-stage consultation, which would take weeks. It seems to me officials want to avoid consultation and legal challenges.'
His group said it was unreasonable for the government to opt for a BOT model as it benefited developers. Under this model, the government retains ownership, but a private developer would build the tower, manage the commercial section and collect the rent. Management of the tower would be returned to the government in 30 years. Property analysts estimate the developer could potentially gain a rental income of HK$300 million a year from it.
Citing a paper by urban planning professor Ng Mee-kam, of Chinese University, Lai said the historic site should not be privatised for profit.
'The BOT is normally used when the government has no expertise in providing, constructing or managing certain public facilities, or when it is short of financial resources,' the paper says.
Under the Efficiency Unit's guidelines, if the government chooses the BOT model for a public works project, it should conduct a business case study and consult the Legislative Council. Lai questioned whether officials had taken these steps.
The west wing was controversially proposed as a grade-two historic building last week.
Bernard Chan, the chairman of the Antiquities Advisory Board, resigned on Monday after being accused of colluding with officials over the Government Hill site.
His resignation came after Lam's announcement last Thursday of the demolition plan. Hours later, Chan used his deciding vote to make the board recommend a grade two status for the 52-year-old west wing for a public consultation. A grade two building is not safe from demolition, while a grade one rating may protect the building if it is then declared a monument.