SoHo residents have done a fine job of renewal without the URA

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 March, 2009, 12:00am

In its recent application to the Town Planning Board for approval of its master layout plan for the Staunton Street/Wing Lee Street redevelopment project, the Urban Renewal Authority created a misleading impression that buildings on Staunton Street were in a derelict condition.

The master layout plan describes the existing condition of the site and a photo with a caption refers to the 'deteriorating /poor conditions' of the buildings at 60-66 Staunton Street. The photo is an old image taken more than a year ago showing buildings wrapped in scaffolding. In fact, these four to five-storey tong laus [Chinese tenements] were undergoing major renovation which resulted in improvements, inside and outside, to the buildings.

The master plan was submitted last month. There is no reason why such an inaccurate description was used unless it was an attempt to misrepresent the situation to the board and the public as well as to justify the demolition of these buildings for a 28-storey high-rise. Organic regeneration has taken place in Staunton Street, which the URA has earmarked for large-scale redevelopment. Renovation of tong laus has become a trend in SoHo resulting in a unique architectural style. Such owner-initiated urban regeneration, common in many other cities, should be encouraged as the engine for urban renewal.

To waste taxpayers' money to take back and pull down these fine properties is a crime. Building a high-rise tower in their place will destroy the unique character and ambience of this historic area. No sensible person will ever want to invest in upgrading their properties in old districts like SoHo for fear of the URA coming in and taking possession of the buildings. The day the URA sends in the wreckers will mark the end of SoHo which is known overseas for its narrow streets and the way in which local people have creatively transformed their buildings.

The current urban renewal policy, whereby buildings in good condition and treasured by the community are demolished for money-making development, is illogical. An alternative approach needs to be considered for regenerating Staunton and Wing Lee streets and it is never too late.

Katty Law, Central