Bid to curb URA's role in redevelopment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 February, 2010, 12:00am

The days of the Urban Renewal Authority compulsorily acquiring areas of old buildings and sending the occupants packing, whether or not they want to go, will end if recommendations by government advisers are adopted.

The URA in future should act only as a facilitator, helping owners set up a project once they have decided they want to go ahead, the advisers say.

This big turnaround from current practice is contained in the report of a steering committee that has been studying views collected last year in a public consultation on a new urban-renewal strategy.

It comes after a string of protests against URA proposals to demolish old areas and replace them with expensive modern high-rises, including Lee Tung Street or 'Wedding Card Street' in Wan Chai.

Under preliminary proposals, once owners agree to a redevelopment the authority will help them find a developer.

The authority would set out guidelines for redevelopment, including development density, height limits and compensation options, to guide the redevelopment and ensure owners would be compensated.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told legislators yesterday that the authority's role as facilitator should not include assisting profit-oriented projects in which most owners were investors looking for profits.

The committee also said the owners could be given other options instead of cash compensation.

But Lam said 'flat-for-flat' and 'shop-for-shop' options, as used in some private redevelopments, would be difficult to implement. 'It would be hard to identify a shop or a flat with the same value, same size and same orientation,' she said.

Legislator Lee Wing-tat, of the Democratic Party, said the speed of redevelopment was too slow. While the authority and developers gained huge profits from selling luxurious flats, affected owners gained little compensation.

Cyd Ho Sau-lan of Civic Act-up said public housing should be available in the redevelopment district to allow affected residents to be relocated in the same community.

Lawmakers also suggested narrowing down the type of old buildings to be covered under a proposed redevelopment law so that ageing, but structurally safe blocks, were less likely to face the wrecking ball.

They say the law, which will enable developers to force the sale of remaining properties in an old block once they have acquired 80 per cent, will not necessarily help solve the building safety problem.

The proposal involves lowering the threshold for developers, currently set at 90 per cent. It will cover residential buildings older than 50 years.

Citing one of the 20 cases that went to the Lands Tribunal under the original law, the Civic Party's Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said the court would issue a compulsory sale order even if a building had no structural dangers - as long as the court thought it would be 'economically unworthy to repair' as the repair cost outweighed the enhancement value, say, by HK$2 million. The same rationale was used in three other cases.

Deputy Secretary for Development Tommy Yuen Man-chung admitted the proposed law did not chiefly aim at maintaining building safety, which was a subject handled by other laws and subsidies.

Ng said: 'If the proposal doesn't target dilapidated or dangerous buildings, why should it facilitate developers?'

Legislators Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and James To Kun-sun suggested an amendment so that the new law would only include buildings in poor condition, say, with a repair order.