talk back

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2007, 12:00am

Q What do you think of the redevelopment plan for Peel and Graham streets?

Talkback writers Andrew Stormont (February 28), Cynthia Lee Hong-yee, Hannah Silverstein and Annaliese Johnsen (March 1) raised interesting issues on our Peel Street/Graham Street project. We would like to respond.

This redevelopment was announced but not implemented by the former Land Development Corporation in January 1998. With the dissolution of the LDC in 2001, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) took over this and other ex-LDC projects.

Included in the site are 37 blocks, four of which are pre-war and the rest were built in the mid-1950s and '60s. The buildings are dilapidated and the living environment generally poor. Over the past nine years, residents, supported by the Central and Western District Council and political groups, have repeatedly demanded early implementation of this project as living conditions worsened. Over the past years, and as you reported in your paper on January 1 this year, dozens of resident representatives led by three Democratic Party Central and Western district councillors had protested outside our premises against the URA for 'failing to bring [the properties] under redevelopment'. Your report went on to say '[the residents and the councillors] demanded immediate relocation and compensation for land they said had been zoned for redevelopment years ago and could not be sold'. Clearly residents want us to get on with this project without delay.

We fully appreciate that this project is sited in a busy location, rich in historical features. We attach a great deal of importance to public consultation and engagement. Since early 2005 we have used a bottom-up consultation process in soliciting the community's views on how best to bring the project forward. We consulted the district council and the URA's Central and Western District advisory committee; we put together a community workshop attended by representatives of our stakeholders, including residents, hawkers, shop operators, district councillors and government officials; and we commissioned the department of social work and social administration of the University of Hong Kong to conduct surveys.

This approach has helped us come up with a design that finds majority acceptance. In late January, we submitted the master layout plan for the project to the Town Planning Board. We understand that the board has received many submissions in support of our plan. Regarding preservation and conservation, we intend to preserve three pre-war shop houses at 26A-26C Graham Street and put them to adaptive reuse. We are also aware of the historical background of the Wing Woo Grocery, which is one of Hong Kong's oldest grocery stores. However, because of its unstable structure, we may only manage to preserve its facade. But a consultant is to have another look at the structure itself.

As for the street character and atmosphere at Graham Street, they will not only be preserved but will be augmented by our proposed 'old shop street' where hopefully many of Hong Kong's well-known old-brand stores will see fit to operate. Under our 'Nostalgia in vibrancy: Bringing back old charms and streetscape' concept, we have formed a conservation panel, consisting of local residents and hawkers, district council members and heritage experts. We look forward to its advice on how best to preserve the street character, including hawker activities, while improving the pedestrian environment.

The project will see the welcomed provision of a multi-purpose hall with over 400 seats and a public open space of 1,000 square metres. Technical studies indicate that the proposed development will blend in well with the environment without any adverse visual impact. We will not compromise the capacity of roads and junctions; car parking provisions will be kept to the minimum, and loading and unloading activities will be confined to within the site boundaries. There will be no unacceptable environmental problems such as noise, water and air quality. Air ventilation will improve.

Finally, on compensation, our policy, approved by the finance committee of the Legislative Council in 2001 and based on the market price of a notional seven-year-old flat in the district, has proved effective in enabling residents to find an alternative home with, in most if not all cases, much improved living conditions. More than 90 per cent of ex-owners affected by our projects have accepted our compensation offers. Our staff and social service team will help those wishing to find accommodation in the vicinity or those with special problems.

Paul Leung, Urban Renewal Authority

Q Do you think eco-coffins are a good idea?

Of course. These paper coffins can be made from recycled material and will be a lot cheaper. It also means that no more trees need be chopped down just to be burned.

Philip Beh

On other matters ...

Unless jockey Christopher Munce manipulated the horse he was riding on, I think the jail term is ridiculous. Since most of the times he rode the winning horse, I suggest there is a bigger investigation into the other jockeys as he could not have won without their help if it was a fix. If it was not a fix, a penalty by the Jockey Club should be sufficient as he did not manipulate the race and make other punters lose money.

Jeffry Kuperus, Clear Water Bay