Truth behind urban decay more sinister than URA's 'sob story'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 November, 2008, 12:00am

Does Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), really think your readers will fall for the sob story scenario in his article ('The need for a sensible balance in urban renewal', November 18)?

He mentions issues such as air quality, density, green issues and open space - all anathema to a URA development.

The real reason for urban decay in our city is because property owners and developers know that if they allow their buildings to deteriorate to such an extent they will be declared uninhabitable. The area is then declared an urban renewal site. The URA moves in and removes the tenants and small businesses. The subsequent 'comprehensive development area' designation allows streets and lanes to be eliminated and used to inflate the plot ratio and density. Developers build sterile blocks that they sell off or rent for mega bucks.

The original inhabitants are priced out of the area and community relationships are severed. Historical and cultural buildings are not spared or are stripped of their relevance. Examples of the above scenario abound: the Zenith and other towers in Wan Chai, the Hanoi Road redevelopment in Tsim Sha Tsui, the takeover of Macpherson Stadium in Mong Kok.

Urban decay can be avoided through more stringent building maintenance regulations and financial assistance to impoverished residents who cannot afford necessary repairs. Otherwise supply and demand will encourage redevelopment, but on a more human level. Caged housing could be reduced through more enlightened public housing programmes and the determination to evict well-off tenants who have been allowed to enjoy subsidies to which they are no longer entitled.

The URA is a tool that allows the government to clear out prime development sites and line the pockets of property developers. This is borne out by the fact that one cannot name a single URA redevelopment project that has benefited the original residents of the area by providing them with better living conditions in that area while retaining community ties. The operation of the URA does not need to be reviewed, it should be exterminated.

Candy Tam, Wan Chai