Urban renewal chief wants to focus on big picture

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 February, 2007, 12:00am

The Urban Renewal Authority should focus on bigger projects which can revitalise older districts, according to its managing director.

Billy Lam Chung-lun said dozens of small projects earlier identified by the authority may involve renovation instead of redevelopment.

'There are many sites smaller than 2,000 square metres,' he said, adding that they mostly involved only one or two dilapidated buildings and their redevelopment could be done by private developers.

'What we should do is focus on bigger projects, which allows us to provide more open space to the public and conduct more conservation work during the redevelopment. This will revitalise the living environment in the old areas,' he said.

This approach could be part of the new urban renewal strategy, which will be drafted later this year with the government.

The Urban Renewal Authority was set up in 2001 to implement a renewal programme consisting of 200 new projects and 25 uncompleted projects it inherited from the Land Development Corporation. Only four of the 25 projects left over by the corporation have not been launched. Mr Lam said the remaining projects would go ahead despite opposition from some residents.

They include the walled village of Nga Tsin Wai in Kowloon City, Kwun Tong town centre, Staunton Street in Central, Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok and Gage Street in Central. Shop owners from Fa Yuen Street, also known as 'Sneaker Street' are strongly opposed to the redevelopment.

Mr Lam stressed the authority would face lawsuits if the projects were not implemented, saying residents had been waiting for a long time for an improvement in their living environment.

'At the same time, it will be difficult for us just to pay lots of money to resume the blocks but not to redevelop them. This could be seen as a violation of our duty.'

Mr Lam said the authority was discussing the scheme with Cheung Kong, which owns more than 80 per cent of land in Nga Tsin Wai village.

Meanwhile, it also is considering how to proceed with the project in the SoHo area, after the Town Planning Board decided not to challenge a court ruling that it was wrong to refuse to exclude land owned by Henderson Land from the authority redevelopment zone.

Mr Lam said urban redevelopment in Hong Kong has to be accelerated as about 8,000 buildings will reach the end of their design life in the next decade.

'Given a building design life of 50 years, we would be expecting there would be about 800 buildings reaching their design maturity each year in the coming 10 years.'

Also he said there are more than 2,000 private buildings built in or before the 1950s, that are still standing.

'We should try to push for more projects when the property market is on the rise because we can have better negotiating power with bidding developers on different terms, such as conservation and open space, and this can allow us to deliver better products to residents.'