URA accused of ignoring advice on Central plan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2007, 12:00am

Concept shows only blocks of flats

Some residents in Central have criticised the Urban Renewal Authority for ignoring the Town Planning Board's recommendation to consider the feasibility of preserving the tenement buildings in Wing Lee Street.

The residents made the criticism at a consultation workshop on December 8 in which none of the four concept plans presented to the 80 participants mentioned preserving the post-war tenement buildings. There was also no mention of providing a public open space on the site as an alternative.

The site, behind the Bridges Street Market, is part of the URA's redevelopment project for a 3,500 sq ft plot between Wing Lee and Staunton streets.

Instead, the concept plans only showed the construction of a 27-floor residential building and a low-rise block that will provide residents with a swimming pool and shopping facilities.

Roger Ho Yao-sheng, a long-time resident of the district who attended the workshop, said he was shocked to find out from the minutes of the Town Planning Board's November meeting that the board had asked the URA to consider keeping the tenement buildings or turning the site into a public open space.

In the minutes, the board asked the URA to submit two master layout plans for the site - one with and one without the preservation of the tenement buildings.

It also suggested that the authority give further thought to preserving the characteristics of the area, which formerly housed the American Congregational Mission Preaching House, where the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, was baptised in 1883.

'The workshop was misleading because the URA had not presented to us all the options before we were asked to give our views. It was not the first time they did this,' he said.

Mr Ho said the gap between the new residential block and Kam Kin Mansion behind would be less than 4.5 metres. Fronting the block would be other tall residential buildings, including Grandview Garden and Centre Stage.

'This area will be unlivable if the redevelopment continues. The URA has violated the very principle underlying its existence, namely, to create a better living environment for us,' he said.

However, Iris Tam Siu-ying, the URA's executive director (planning and development), said there was no attempt by the authority to hide anything or to mislead the public. She argued that preserving the tenement buildings, which had no historical or architectural merit under existing standards, was only a suggestion made by a small number of people.

'We have tried our best to allow for visual gaps in our plans,' she said. 'We even openly discussed with the workshop participants the future of the Bridges Street Market, the opinion on which remained divided between retaining the structure and turning it into an open space,' she said.

Ms Tam said her department had the responsibility to make sure that the URA's projects would be financially sustainable in the long run.

'It is a dilemma that Hong Kong people have to face,' she said.

'Many office workers would rather live in a high-density area that is closer to their workplace than in a faraway new town like Tai Po and Tuen Mun.

'We have to make good use of the easily accessible sites in the urban area.'