Behind the URA's smokescreen on damaging Graham Street

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am

I refer to the letter by the Urban Renewal Authority's (URA) Angela Tang ('Hawkers back Graham Street market revamp', September 11).

I wish to make this very clear: what the URA is actually doing in the Graham/Peel streets area is building two residential towers, each more than 30 storeys high on a four-level podium. They will have a total of 293 flats, one 26-storey hotel above a four-level podium with 182 guestrooms, and a 33-storey office tower above a four-level podium with a plot ratio of 15. This is what everyone should visualise, and what will put our street market, if any of it is left, in a shadow in a few years' time.

The URA apparently wants to use a smokescreen, talking about 'revitalising' the market while dancing around the issue of development intensity. However, clear-headed members of the public have not been fooled. In a forum organised by the URA on August 7, the majority of the attendees - including planners, architects and nearby residents - rejected this gargantuan development.

Some correctly said such insensitive redevelopment would damage the environment of this pleasant, low-rise buffer zone between the Central business district and uphill residential area.

The URA has set up a 'conservation advisory panel' to look at heritage and hawker-related matters. But nothing close to a heritage impact assessment or social impact assessment has ever been produced and made available for public comment. The URA can never justify how it can erase old streets, pull down old buildings, build big towers and still maintain the heritage of our century-old street market.

Experience from other world-class cities tells us that such a heritage area should never be redeveloped in this manner. It needs tender loving care by the government and the community to gradually and organically regenerate the delicate environment, rebuilding when necessary - but subject to a well-defined heritage protection policy and planning control. The URA's redevelopment is out of step with current conservation ideals.

We need a change in the government mindset: our neighbourhood is in the utmost danger.

Katty Law, Central