Hopewell hotel approval saga warrants independent inquiry

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 October, 2008, 12:00am

Kay Chan's letter ('Hopewell legal rights must be respected', October 1) appears to be confused on the background of this [Mega Tower] project.

Every experienced developer is aware, or should be aware, that persistently attempting to exploit any bureaucratic system is like holding a kangaroo by the tail, eventually it will turn round and kick you where it hurts and leave you gasping for breath.

The high-pitched squeaky voices from the Hopewell camp now complaining about unfair treatment from the public and government are an indication that our bureaucratic kangaroo may have delivered at least one painful kick.

Recently, the development secretary acknowledged that the government is under no statutory obligation to agree to a land exchange with the developer. In addition, it is now apparent that the 1994 scheme had a statutory deadline and although an attempt to perpetuate the scheme was made by the secretary of the Town Planning Board, by issuing a letter seven weeks after the deadline, that letter was written without the required delegated authority. If statutory procedures have been bypassed, what legal rights are government and the public being asked to 'respect'?

The history of this project suggests that an independent inquiry is necessary to identify - and close - loopholes in the planning system that allowed the developer in 1985 to propose a 1.1 million sq ft hotel on public open space in return for an adjoining 60,000 sq ft public park - and later to drastically move the goalposts so that the hotel size is increased by 55 per cent with the major portion of public park land transferred to the developer to use for calculating this extra building volume.

I am a retired surveyor and believe the planning system is supposed to protect the public interest, but has been seriously defective against the commercial skills of developers.

An intrinsic weakness in the system is the appointment of a government planning official to the post of secretary to the board. Such officers usually have been entrenched within the planning department and are unlikely to have the independence of mind to handle this important job.

T. Farnworth, Mid-Levels