Board challenges approval for tower

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am

Mid-Levels residents hail planners' move

The Town Planning Board will appeal against a judicial review ruling that permits a 54-storey building to be constructed on Seymour Road and Castle Steps, in Mid-Levels.

The decision came after two hours of closed-door discussions yesterday morning. Board chairman Raymond Young Lap-moon said it had been backed by the majority of the board members, adding that the controversial ruling last Thursday would have a significant impact on the board's work in future.

'We hope to clarify some directional issues in the appeal, such as what would be taken into consideration [by the court],' he said.

But Mr Young did not spell out how the ruling would affect the board.

The board's decision was welcomed by about 3,000 people - including residents, who signed a petition in favour of the appeal.

A Swire Properties spokesman said the company acknowledged the right of the board to appeal but hoped the matter could be settled soon as the town planning process had dragged on for four years.

High Court judge Andrew Cheung Kui-nung ordered the board to reverse its decision blocking the relaxation of height and plot ratio restrictions on a block of land abutting Castle Steps for the development by a subsidiary of Swire Properties, International Trader Limited (ITL).

He said the Town Planning Appeal Board had wrongly taken traffic and visual considerations into account.

The ruling sparked public outcry from Mid-Levels residents, district councillors and green groups, saying that the high-rise would create a wall effect and put pressure on traffic in the area.

The board had dismissed ITL's applications for relaxation twice. It maintained that a maximum of 12 storeys with a plot ratio of no more than 5 should be built. Another 57-storey high-rise was proposed by the same developer for an adjoining site.

After the court ruling, a much-wider 54-storey high-rise can be built across the two sites.

A source close to the board said the move was to bring the case to the consideration of three High Court judges instead of just one.

The source also said it was necessary to clarify the circumstances under which a relaxation should be allowed during the town planning process.

University of Hong Kong assistant law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said the traffic factor had not been a legal issue for planners.

The emphasis placed on the factor, as upheld by the board in its two rejections, might have been the result of a change of public sentiment.

He dismissed worries that developers would increasingly abuse the legal system by seeking judicial reviews, saying that the court was fulfilling its obligation instead of taking over the town planning decision.

Professor Cheung urged the government to expedite its review of the outline zoning plan to clarify the planning intention.

More than half of Hong Kong's 108 outline zoning plans do not have planning parameters specifying heights, plot ratio and maximum gross floor areas.