Public split over Hopewell's Wan Chai rezoning plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 February, 2009, 12:00am

Government backs developer over open-space U-turn

Public opinion is split over Hopewell Holding's proposal to turn its open space in Wan Chai into commercial use.

The proposal has drawn more than 4,500 public submissions to the Town Planning Board from residents and concern groups, with 2,676 supporting and 1,907 objecting.

A 25-storey commercial building named QRE Plaza has already been built on Hopewell's site on 196-206 Queen's Road East. The government said rezoning the former open space site for commercial use would legitimise the new building.

It also said the change would not reduce the open space provision in Wan Chai, as the Hopewell Centre II development will provide an additional 5,880 square-metre open space in future.

But opponents are angered that the developer itself suggested a land exchange, surrendering the site as open space as part of its proposal of building the 93-storey Mega Tower in 1994, according to a Town Planning Board paper released yesterday.

But the suggestion was not incorporated as a condition when the board approved the Mega Tower plan, although the government later zoned the site as open space to reflect the plan's intention.

Hopewell later decided to give up its open space proposal after its amended plan of breaking the tower into two high-rises was rejected in 2004. Instead, it built the QRE Plaza on the site according to an old plan approved in 1981.

While Hopewell stressed it has no obligation to provide the open space, critics said it was the government's bureaucracy that allowed the developer to exploit the system and not to deliver the space.

Civic Party vice-chairman Albert Lai Kwong-tak said the case demonstrated the flaws in the town-planning system, with land and planning issues decided by separate bodies. 'The land exchange policy, operated with plenty of discretion, defeats the whole purpose of town planning. Lands officials can override town planners' decisions.'

According to the board's paper released yesterday, although the board endorsed Hopewell's open space proposal in 1994 and advised it to negotiate with the Lands Department, the department rejected the proposal for a land exchange. Mr Lai said it was unclear why the government now decided not to insist on the open-space zoning as it did in the 1990s. 'There is a lack of accountability.'

Meanwhile, opponents say in their submissions that the elimination of the open-space zoning would represent a public loss. 'Unless the developer would surrender another piece of land for open-space development, the subject site should not be rezoned. The board cannot be treated as a rubber stamp,' they said.

A spokeswoman for Hopewell Holdings said the company had strong justifications for the application and had already submitted them to the board.

The board will discuss the case tomorrow.