More of the same is not what we need

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am

Despite Hong Kong's small size and short history, it is hard to pinpoint areas of physical development in which it is lacking. Indeed, many complaints about the city arise from things we have too much of: too many of the same chain stores, too many high-rises, too many roads, too many cars, too many podium structures and pedestrian bridges making it difficult for ground-level activities in our city centres.

But now, it looks as if we are going to get even more of the same - just when we thought the government was committed to reducing them. Last week, it was announced that the conservation plan for Government Hill after the relocation of government offices to the Tamar complex could include a high-rise office block along with an underground mall and a car park. In other words, another high-rise, more indoor chain stores, another car park and therefore more cars.

Ever since the government first revealed these plans in last October's policy address, it has been known that the west wing of the current Central Government Offices would be put up for sale for private development, although a public garden would be included in those plans. At the time, the government sold this package as part of a holistic conservation plan for Central, recognising its overdevelopment and urgent need for some urban oases. Replacing a modestly designed 13-storey building for civil servants with a private development that could stretch to 32-storeys does not sound much like an urban oasis. Neither does the track record of private developments managing public open spaces instil the public with confidence that the public park will be accessible. Nor do private developers have a reputation for keeping their buildings modest. No matter how well the bulk of the historic buildings in the current government complex are preserved, they will all be dwarfed into irrelevance if another opulent edifice is developed next to them. The government has recognised the unhealthy addiction with Central as a business district, which causes congestion and constant demand for more office space. So instead of feeding that addiction, it should be weaning people off it.