Minister must take back control of city from major developers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2008, 12:00am

The Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has now acknowledged for the first time that the government has the final decision on issuing any land exchange in the Mega Tower project, but then hints at a possible 'risk' if the developer's demand for the land is refused ('Rejecting Mega plan risky: minister', July 19).

The facts are simple. The Mega Tower developer originally proposed a 5,880 square metre public park on land which it was purchasing in exchange for the right to locate its 106,000 square metre hotel on the already zoned open space on public land.

The Town Planning Board in 1985 accepted this proposal and honoured the arrangement by a rezoning to facilitate this public park and adjoining hotel concept.

Over many years, the developer confused the Town Planning Board and government planners by submitting numerous alternative schemes in an attempt to move the goalposts.

By 1994, the developer had reduced the area of the public park to 2,030 square metres and increased the size of the hotel to its present excessive dimensions of 164,000 square metres. Planning department staff failed to exercise planning controls and on two occasions acted outside statutory procedures.

It is up to Mrs Lam to protect the public interest by refusing a land exchange unless the developer reverts to the original public park and hotel size.

Mrs Lam should also arrange an independent inquiry to identify the loopholes which allowed the planning system to be exploited. And the system must be strengthened to avoid similar future abuse. This is essential as a means of protecting the public interest.

The minister has complete authority and justification for adopting this solution and should now be standing on the side of the public and not kowtowing to commercial or developer pressures.

It is time to stop the defects in the planning system from being used to monopolise public land reserved for open space or other community services. It is time for the minister to take back control of the city from major developers.

Fan Waugh Fu, Mid-Levels