Are you ashamed of the Urban Council?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 1997, 12:00am

YES Last week, I had a phone call from a friend who works for a British national newspaper. She wanted to know what ceremonies were being planned for the handover - you know, what sophisticated, unforgettable events would be forever imprinted on the minds of the world's visiting media. 'Well,' I yelled (a demolition site has suddenly crumbled into life outside my window and telephone calls can be exhausting affairs) . . . and then I hesitated, out of a sudden sense of loyalty. Too late.

'We've already run a piece on' - and here there was a pause followed by an intercontinental snigger bouncing off the satellite - 'Elton John. What a hoot that was, eh?' 'There were vital reasons,' I bellowed, stiffly. 'Yeah, right,' she laughed. It was not a happy moment.

Perhaps you will understand the shame of that conversation, although I have to say it wasn't quite as bad as the day I happened to be in London on holiday, opened up a newspaper and saw a row of strangely grinning people waving white gloves at me from the Overseas News page. I peered at the text, wondering what religious sect these poor souls belonged to, and was disagreeably surprised to see that they were all members of the Silent Order of the Hong Kong Stadium. And that the Michael Jackson imitation was obviously the closest any of us would ever get to the singer.

I enjoy living in Hong Kong because I like to feel I'm at the cutting edge of things - here I am at an extraordinary moment in the life of this glossy metropolis which inspires awe and envy all over the globe. Wow! my friends gasp, when they fly in from scrappy, lesser cities such as London and Los Angeles. And I beam modestly, buffing my fingernails (or clipping them, if I want to be really local), savouring the proud moment.

So I don't like it when everyone laughs at us. Headphones and white gloves - I mean, really, what is the Urban Council on? And this latest nonsense about saucy dancing and suggestive costumes, and subsequent talk of censorship is really straying beyond the boundaries of what's funny.

I'm not advocating pop concerts every week at the stadium, but when the Urban Council puts its foot down over two performances which were scheduled to mark a one-off event - an occasion which has been described as the world's biggest peace-time news story - there has to be something wrong. (What, they think China's going to hand us back and we'll have to have yet another concert to celebrate?) I read last week that the stadium was built on an old cemetery. Apart from highlighting a hideous fung shui aspect, perhaps this also explains the Urban Council's position. They want it, you see, to remain as silent as the grave.

Fionnuala McHugh NO.

It is very easy to laugh at the Urban Council. They are, after all, politicians. They are also local politicians, which as everyone knows is another phrase for 'accepts advantages in return for pushing through spurious planning applications from local developers'.

At the moment, the Urban Council is attracting hoots of derision around the world for its decision to turn down loud pop concerts at the Hong Kong Stadium. Its demand that the audience wear headphones and gloves to dampen the sound of the music and applause has been pilloried.

But who is doing the pillorying? In 99.99 per cent of the cases, those who are laughing the loudest are linked by one common factor - they do not live in Happy Valley.

Answer these following questions honestly. Do you like to spend your evenings at home listening to Cantopop being played at high volume? Even if you do, do you like listening to the same album 10 nights in succession? More to the point, if your neighbour played Cantopop loudly every night for 10 nights, would you accept it? Surely the answer must be no in every case. What could be more miserable than arriving home after a typically psychotic day in Hong Kong to find that, between the hours of 8 pm and 11 pm, you are going to be forced to listen to music that does not comply with your taste? How would you feel if it had to happen to you? Personally, I'd purchase myself a sniper's rifle and take out Leon Lai from 40 metres with soft-head bullets, which should ensure some reluctance on the part of fellow performers to play the venue. Luckily, the sensible residents of Happy Valley decided instead to seek recourse through the system and turned to the Urban Council. I would have been embarrassed by the Urban Council if it had refused to listen. But the council investigated, discovered noise levels that exceeded guidelines laid down in law and took action to set that straight. That is precisely what they should have done and they should be commended, not laughed at.

However, the action they took was ludicrous. Headphones are not the solution. The only solution to this problem is to ban outright any pop music performances at the stadium at night. Daytime concerts should be permitted, sports events should be permitted, but night concerts must be banned.

Hong Kong has reserves of HK$1,160 billion, generated by you and I. It would not take much of that to build a suitable music venue in the New Territories well away from anyone's flat. We laugh at the decisions of the Urban Council, but surely the really laughable decision was building a music venue smack in the middle of a residential area. So, the Urban Council does not embarrass me. It listened to the people it is supposed to represent at took action. By the way, Fionnuala doesn't live in Happy Valley either.

David Ibison