Lai See

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am


Ching Ming won't be the same in Sha Lo Tung if firm has its way

Sha Lo Tung Development Company (SLTDC) has had an early success with the approval process for its plan to build a columbarium in the ecologically sensitive area of Sha Lo Tung near the Pat Sin Leng Country Park just north of Tai Po.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) has approved the project. But as one observer noted: 'These are the opening skirmishes of a long battle.'

The next step is a decision by ACE, which is likely to approve the project, and its recommendation goes to Anissa Wong Sean-yee, director of the Environmental Protection Department, who is unlikely to go against the recommendation.

The project then has to be heard by the Town Planning Board, which ironically is likely to find it harder to accept the project than the department will. It operates on different criteria for the EIA process and looks at the planning compatibility of the columbarium within the valley. The project then has to go to the chief executive in council for approval of the change in land use from green belt to commercial use.

SLTDC has indicated it might be prepared to accept a land swap and build its columbarium elsewhere. But it should be remembered that the company took a punt when it bought the land rights from the indigenous villagers in 1979. The villagers came by these rights through the notorious small-house policy.

The company has been seeking a way to profit from its investment and has had other proposals rejected. It has been trying to realise development value from land that isn't zoned for redevelopment.

The present project has so far prospered, ironically, under the government's new public-private partnership scheme aimed at allowing some development on private land in a sensitive site while conserving most of it.

However, at least 10 green groups say the project should have been rejected, since the SLTDC's proposals will lead to something like a quarter of a million people every Ching Ming and Chung Yeung festival visiting one of the quietest and most ecologically sensitive areas in the SAR.

Teflon man

We see that Edward Yau Tang-wah, the former secretary for the environment, has landed another government job as director of the chief executive's office. Although well-flagged, it is still shocking that someone who performed so badly can waltz into another job.

Jim Middleton, chairman of Clear the Air, put it more strongly: 'Normally, someone who totally failed in his job and visited overseas 59 times in 60 months at public expense whilst his portfolio, the local stagnant stinking air and environment worsened should be fired.'

One wonders how this happened. Was there a deal? Yau was assured that if he just sat there for five years and did nothing at the Environment Bureau, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen would explain things to his successor to ensure Yau wasn't slung out of the government?

Transparency and timing

Readers following the third-runway saga will be aware that the initial project profile of the Airport Authority, which sets out what is to be considered in its environmental impact assessment (EIA), was sent back to it with a request for more information. The authority announced yesterday that it had submitted further information.

'We welcome close monitoring of the EIA by all concerned stakeholders and members of the public,' Kevin Poole, the authority's deputy director, projects, said in a statement. 'We are firmly committed to carrying it out in a highly transparent and engaging manner.' A few eyebrows were raised at the announcement's timing - just before a long weekend.

Citi's new global position

Citibank is basing its global retail bank head in Hong Kong for the first time. In fact he is already based here, since prior to his promotion, Jonathan Larsen was head of Asia-Pacific consumer banking. He'll be combining these two roles. Citi says this move underlines the increasing importance of the region and its consumers. In the first quarter of this year, the Asia-Pacific contributed US$1.11 billion, or 37 per cent, of Citi's global net income. The Asian consumer banking business contributed close to half of this - US$503 million.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch was the last bank to base a global head in Hong Kong. Claire Huang was global head of international marketing and corporate affairs and lasted a year before leaving for JPMorgan. Her successor will be based back in the US. We expect Citi to do better.