Missing letter key to furore over footbridges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 April, 1999, 12:00am

A retired lands officer was at the centre of circumstances leading to the long delay in the construction of footbridges in Central, the Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday.

The remarks were made at a hearing on the Auditor's criticism in a report published last October.

Committee members challenged Director of Lands Robert Pope on why the requirement of building a footbridge between the China Building and the Entertainment Building in Queen's Road Central was not laid down in a legal document.

Mr Pope replied that the owner of the China Building had 'reluctantly accepted' the plan in a letter to the Government on February 5, 1975.

But the matter was not pursued at a public works department meeting the following day and it was then concluded the building was not required to receive the footbridge.

'The meeting was a turning point . . . It seemed the letter had not been received,' Mr Pope said.

According to Mr Pope, government land agent K. B. Rolfe, who retired 15 years ago, sent a letter to a chief estate surveyor on February 24, 1975, instructing him to draft a basic term offer to the building's owner.

There was no mention of the footbridge to be built on the mezzanine floor.

Mr Pope said it was not known whether Mr Rolfe had attended the February meeting, due to a lack of records, but he had attended a meeting with the building's representative on February 3.

Asked whether Mr Rolfe had made a mistake, Mr Pope said he was only following the decision of the meeting.

'Subsequently, the meeting on February 6 and the minutes instructing the staff to prepare the document did not make provision for that [the requirement of the footbridge] and that is the mistake.

'Whether it was Mr Rolfe's fault, I would not like to say,' Mr Pope said.

Legislators also questioned the Government's failure to seize a second chance to build the footbridge when the China Building was redeveloped in 1982.

Mr Pope said he could not find any reason in existing documents.

Leglisator Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said she was concerned the Government had been negotiating with the wrong party that owned the mezzanine floor.