'Toothpick tower' battle intensifies

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2008, 12:00am

Town planners want a judge to overturn a decision of the Town Planning Appeal Board concerning a proposed 'toothpick tower' in Mid-Levels. The developer behind the project earlier last week lodged its own application for judicial review.

The Town Planning Board wants the High Court to reverse the appeal board's decision to grant unconditional permission for the development to go ahead.

On Thursday, International Trader, a Swire Pacific subsidiary, filed an application, citing the appeal board decision, for the court to quash the Building Authority's recent refusal to approve the project, which would involve amalgating several plots.

The Town Planning Board says the appeal board's decision was wrong in law and its refusal during its hearings to allow representations about the need to make its approval conditional was a violation of the principles of natural justice and the Bill of Rights.

At issue is the meaning of an order issued by Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung in the Court of First Instance after an earlier judicial review of the refusal by another appeal board to grant planning permission over the 2,132 square metre site adjoining Seymour Road and Castle Steps.

International Trader wants to build a 54-storey apartment block atop a podium at the site, but was restricted by height limits in relation to access requirements for emergency services and utilities at the site adjoining Castle Steps.

Mr Justice Cheung said the appeal board wrongly concluded that zoning restrictions for part of the site should not be relaxed on amalgamation.

His order required the board to be reconstituted with a different membership to hear the appeal.

International Trader claims the board was right in interpreting the order as meaning it was to convene to grant permission only. The Town Planning Board (TPB) says the judge would not have intended the appeal board to blindly grant permission.

The TPB sought clarification from Mr Justice Cheung, who said his order 'requires the appeal board to do something. Beyond that it does not say anything. Certainly, it does not say what the [appeal board] cannot do. What the [board] can or cannot do ... is governed by general law.'