Miami Beach, Monte Carlo, Blackpool ... Discovery Bay?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am

Sir David Akers-Jones defends his colonial government's handling of the Lantau development, saying it is on a par with world-class resorts

Sir David Akers-Jones yesterday compared Discovery Bay to world famous resorts such as Monte Carlo, Miami Beach and Blackpool to justify the former colonial government's handling of the Lantau island development.

The former chief secretary said residential and commercial developments in the development did not preclude it from being a resort.

He added that the decisions on land use of Discovery Bay in the 1970s and 1980s were made by a group of professionals and said it was not necessary to take the issue back to the Executive Council at the time. Exco decided in 1976 that the area would be developed into a resort.

'I still consider that Discovery Bay is a resort even to this day,' Sir David, the then secretary for New Territories in charge of the project, told legislators.

'The fact that we now have 15,000 people living in Discovery Bay does not preclude it from being a resort, as do the hotels in Phuket, or the hotels in Miami or the high-rise buildings of Miami, or Blackpool, or Brighton, Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo prevent any of these being considered a resort'.

Sir David was speaking at a Public Accounts Committee hearing into the granting of land at Discovery Bay and Yi Long Wan. The Director of Audit last November criticised the administration for flouting an Executive Council decision in 1976 to turn Discovery Bay into a resort and instead allow it to develop unchecked into a residential area.

The Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee is investigating the findings of the Audit Commission report, which also criticised the government for having failed to charge the developer a land premium, despite the project's master layout plan being changed eight times since the mid-1970s.

Sir David said that the period in the mid-1980s, when he became chief secretary, was a very busy one for the government, with the Sino-British Joint Declaration having just been signed. He said it was not necessary to 'bother Exco with decisions that the secretary for the New Territories was authorised to make.'

'The main authority to make those decisions was me, so if Exco had wanted the decision to be referred back to them, they would have said so,' he said. 'There was ample opportunity in the intervening years for the Director of Audit to raise it but why has it only come up in 2005?'

But the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, has admitted that the project should have gone back to the Executive Council before allowing it to turn into a residential project and said yesterday that this was a point on which he disagreed with Sir David.

Mr Suen and Director of Lands Patrick Lau Lai-chiu, however, defended the decision not to penalise the Discovery Bay developer for its golf course having encroached on 4.12 hectares of government land for 21 years. Mr Lau insisted that there was a system in place to handle the issue of land premiums and illegal land encroachment by developers and it was all taken into a negotiation process.

Democrat lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar-foo argued that asking the developer to pay only $7.23 million in back rent, amounting to around $28,000 a month, was wrong in principle and breached the rule of law in the territory.

'Small landlords who encroach upon government land get arrested but big developers can negotiate and continue to illegally occupy government land - why the discrepancy?' he said.

Are all resorts created equal? Miami, with its miles of beaches, the millionaires' playground of Monte Carlo, Blackpool with its distinctive tower, and the apartments of Discovery Bay.