Activists kept in dark over plans for old jail

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2007, 12:00am

The Town Planning Board changed its reasons for approving the redevelopment plan for Central Police Station and Victoria Prison during a confidential meeting to which heritage activists were not invited, court documents allege.

In an application filed on Monday, the Heritage Hong Kong Foundation requested a judicial review of the July 6 decision by the Town Planning Board to alter without consultation its reasons for approving in August 2006 the draft outline zoning plan for the redevelopment of the site containing Central Police Station, former Victoria Prison and former Central Magistracy buildings.

The application alleges that the board, with the knowledge of the Planning Department, changed the reasons previously given for the approval after it was discovered they were in contravention of a Court of Appeal judgment issued earlier this year.

Mr Justice Andrew Chung On-tak in the Court of First Instance on Monday night ordered a letter be sent to the Chief Executive in Council, who is due to consider the plan, explaining that the decision is subject to an application for judicial review, according to a source close to the case.

A hearing has been scheduled for Friday.

Problematic for the foundation was the fact that the new reasons did not contain the same level of assurances regarding the preservation of heritage value and monitoring and control previously given by the board.

Those assurances were that the planning intention for the site, as spelled out in the notes to the draft plan, 'clearly covers the aspect of heritage preservation' and that there was 'added control under the tender whereby detailed issues relating to heritage conservation, design and layout, height and traffic impact, etc, would be duly assessed and considered'.

Under the revised rules, the 'heritage preservation aspect' now appears at the end of a list of other uses and intentions and there is no mention of any control over tenders - because the board does not have such power.

Instead, it is noted that 'since any new development within the zone will require planning permission from the Board, there was sufficient planning control'.

Ian Brownlee, a consultant for Heritage Hong Kong, said the amendments basically swept away the very basis for the original decision to approve the draft as it then stood.

He had argued at the time that the board did not have any legal control over tenders and that it needed to be very specific in the draft in order to protect what was one of the city's most valuable heritage sites.

'We don't think the board has any right to reconvene discussions on this without inviting us,' Mr Brownlee said. 'This site is so important, consultations on its future should be done properly - everyone agrees.

'The way the wording was changed does not follow the course of the original discussions ... we think we should be able to go back and argue it again.'

The group challenges the original decision on the grounds that it was made in error and was based on irrelevant considerations.

As a result of the first decision's illegality, the representations made regarding the draft had not been properly dealt with and the group had a right to argue them again.

The revised decision was procedurally unfair because interested parties were not made aware of the meeting or of the materials upon which it was based.