Board unfair in handling of 'toothpick' site, court hears

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am

A Swire subsidiary defending a controversial development in the Mid-Levels says the Town Planning Board did not look at the big picture for the Seymour Road project.

International Trader wants to build a 54-storey building - nicknamed 'the toothpick' by its opponents - on a parcel of land that is sandwiched between unrestricted zones, which the company also owns.

It believes there is no essential difference among the plots making up the zone. That was the argument Benjamin Yu SC, a lawyer for the company, made yesterday in the Court of Appeal.

The board had earlier refused the company's application to remove the 12-storey limit on the site because of traffic and visual considerations.

Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung ruled last year the board had to reverse that decision because those considerations were not relevant to the company's application for the relaxation of restrictions on the site. He found there was little to indicate that traffic issues were behind the board's decision to limit development on the site.

On the second day of the appeal, Mr Yu said it would only be fair to justify a restriction by understanding the intention behind the planning.

The fairness principle applied 'in understanding the plan to identify what material is relevant to the plan in context', he argued.

He said the restricted site was 'sandwiched' by surrounding sites that were not subject to height and plot ratio restrictions, and where the company had received approval to build a 57-storey building.

He argued there was no reason to treat an owner of a composite site of both restricted and unrestricted areas differently from an owner of only an unrestricted site if the plan-making body was assumed to be rational and fair minded.

'Once the access problem is solved, there would be no difference [between the restricted zone and the unrestricted zone],' he said.

On the first day of the appeal against the judgment in November last year, Keith Lindblom QC, acting for the board, contended that it had the power to consider traffic and visual effects, even though it was not within the scope of the zoning plan, as they concerned the environment of the sites.

Mr Lindblom noted the court held that the board would be in a position to judge the suitability of the development and whether the accessibility problems of the site could be overcome.

The hearing continues today.