Groups oppose delay in talks on height of police station compound

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 August, 2009, 12:00am

Conservation groups have accused the government of manipulating the town planning process in trying to delay a Town Planning Board hearing to discuss their proposal to set a height limit on the Central police station compound.

Their application to set a 77- metre height restriction on the monument site is due to be discussed by the board early next month. However, the Planning Department this week asked the board to postpone the hearing until the Hong Kong Jockey Club made its design proposal available later this year. The board will decide on whether to postpone the hearing today.

Representatives of the 13 non-governmental organisations will argue that they have a right to be heard without delay, as required under the Town Planning Ordinance.

The Jockey Club bowed to public pressure last year and scrapped its plan for a 150-metre-high observation deck to be erected on the site. Residents said the deck would obstruct views of buildings in Mid-Levels, and the extra facilities would bring traffic congestion to the area. Conservation groups argued that a monument should have as little structural and visual interference as possible.

After a six-month public consultation, the club promised to reduce the height and bulk of the new structure. A revised design is being drawn up.

The NGO alliance's proposal for the 77-metre height limit was based on a decision by the Antiquities and Monuments Office in 2004 and on a Jockey Club architect's suggestion to respect the 'open character' of the prison courtyard. The alliance says the height limit is a fundamental parameter which must be in place before the design is prepared, and design flexibility would be allowed by a height-relaxation clause.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, director of the Conservancy Association - one of the 13 NGOs - said yesterday that the Planning Department's request to delay the hearing was worrying.

It has been usual government practice to set planning controls, such as height limits and plot ratios, on a district without waiting for developers to present their development schemes, and Mr Lai said he did not see why the government had to give an exception to the Jockey Club.

'The fundamental problem is that there is no real independence in the Town Planning Board. The chairman of the meeting will be the director of planning, and the secretary is her deputy. In other words, they will be overseeing consideration of their own recommendation,' he said.

An independent secretariat must be provided if the community was to have any trust in the board, he said.

A Development Bureau spokeswoman said the Jockey Club had committed to take into account all views gathered from consultation in developing the new design, and a height restriction was unnecessary, as any new development would require the board's permission.