Stanley Market must stay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 12:00am

From time to time news emerges of a development proposal in Hong Kong that can only be described as ludicrous. One certainly emerged on Friday. And this particular proposal is one of the daftest in a long while. It features an innocent enough structure: the ever-popular, almost ubiquitous, shopping mall. The mall in question would consist of three large structures. And the plan is linked to a proposal by the same developer to build a nine-storey, 89-room hotel in a 560-square-metre area next to the mall.

This all sounds reasonable enough until it is realised that it is proposed to build the shopping mall where Stanley Market now stands. Thus, if the development goes ahead, one of Hong Kong's premier tourist attractions will be, quite simply, erased. It is perhaps insane to imagine that this proposal, by a private developer, will be sanctioned by the Planning Department. And yet, the manner in which the department has sought the views of affected parties perhaps encourages the conclusion that anything is possible.

Residents claim many of them received brief, faxed notices saying a re-zoning request had been lodged with the Planning Department. No further details were given. The Planning Department still refuses to reveal the name of the developer. Why the secrecy about a development that could have a massive impact not only on the character and soul of Stanley, but also on Hong Kong's appeal as a tourist's notion of a shopping mecca? Indeed 'mecca' is the very word the Hong Kong Tourism Board's Web site uses to describe the allure of the market.

Certainly it is unarguable that Stanley could be improved. It already boasts one of the finest architectural examples of preserving the best from the past combined with a healthy appreciation of putting land to its most lucrative use. This philosophy is epitomised by Murray House, the splendid old colonial building that was moved from its valuable original site in Central and rebuilt, stone by stone in Stanley. The stately, colonnaded Victorian-era building, redeveloped by the Housing Authority, now provides a handsome backdrop as visitors stroll out of the market and along the waterfront.

Such projects, which preserve the eclectic mix that typifies Hong Kong, will, ultimately, mean the difference between the territory losing or maintaining its unique character.

And it is therefore not only the residents of Stanley who should make clear their opposition to this plan to destroy Stanley Market, but all who care that Hong Kong maintains its premier position on the tourist map.


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