Developers accused of abusing law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2007, 12:00am

Planners fear judicial reviews will mean more unsightly projects

Members of the Town Planning Board fear developers will increasingly abuse the legal system by seeking judicial reviews to push through their projects.

They raised their concerns yesterday after the High Court gave the green light to a high-rise development in Mid-Levels.

The court also overturned a board decision earlier this month by asking the board to reconsider its decision and allow development on three conservation areas in Clear Water Bay. The ruling was given by the same judge, Andrew Cheung Kui-nung.

The residential development in Seymour Road and Castle Steps, proposed by Swire Properties, was repeatedly blocked by the Town Planning Board, Town Planning Appeal Board and Building Appeal Tribunal from 2003 to 2006. The reasons were based mainly on the visual and traffic impact generated by the development.

Before appealing to the High Court, the developer had obtained approval from the Buildings Department to build a 57-storey building and a 12-storey building on two of four sites involved in the development. The court's decision yesterday, relaxing a height limit, means a much wider 54-storey high rise can be built across the two sites.

Gregory Wong Chak-yan, a member of the Town Planning Board, said the court and the board had opposing views on the development because the judge's decision was based mainly on legal documents such as the outline zoning plan, while the board looked at social changes taking place in Mid-Levels.

'The term 'wall effect' only came up in Hong Kong a few years ago and traffic was not that congested in Mid-Levels,' Dr Wong said, 'Planning concerns and restrictions stated in the outline zoning plan have not caught up with reality.'

Another board member, Ng Cho-nam, said the outline zoning plans should be reviewed as early as possible to prevent developers from escaping the board's decisions and resorting to judicial reviews.

'It has become a trend now,' Dr Ng said, adding that the board had an obligation to maintain people's quality of life by considering the cumulative impact of developments.

Central and Western District Council member Chan Chit-kwai said traffic in the area was so bad that it took 20 minutes to commute from Seymour Road to Hollywood Road in peak hours. He said the huge development would be an eyesore.

Green Sense said it was disappointed by the judgment and claimed the development would block winds blowing over the north of Hong Kong Island.

A Mr Man, who has lived in Merry Court, along Castle Road, for 30 years, said the opening of the Sun Yat-sen Museum had already greatly increased traffic. He was worried that air quality would get worse.

Leung Kai-chiu, who owns a hair salon in the area, was worried that the serious traffic jams could damage his business.

More than half of Hong Kong's 108 outline zoning plans at present do not have planning parameters specifying heights, plot ratios and maximum gross floor areas. The Development Bureau said priority would be given to sites along the harbour in its reviews.