Public open space ... the final semantic frontier

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 12:00am

When two players accuse each other of cheating at cards, they may be both right. This seems to be the case in the latest episode of a never-ending soap opera that is the Wan Chai Mega Tower.

Whether this beloved project of tycoon Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung will finally get off the ground after more than two decades of town-planning wrangling now seems to hinge on the meanings of three words: public open space. You and I and any 10-year-old know what they mean but when $4.5 billion is involved, you will be surprised how many meanings the three words can have.

The Hopewell Holdings boss, rightly, accuses the Planning Department of double standards when its officials object to 'covered open space' as really being open space.

'If [this] is correct, many members of the public would fail to understand why West Kowloon, with a 30-storey-high canopy covering 44 hectares, would be exempted [from having] any public open space provision,' the latest Hopewell submission to the Town Planning Board says. Fair point! But then Hopewell proposes a rather alarming definition: 'Public open space should mean space open to the public at reasonable hours.'

By this standard, a public toilet could count as an open space. So could the lobby of the proposed hotel, shops and much else. Semantics, semantics ...