Project in prime Central location shows predatory nature of URA

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 October, 2010, 12:00am

I refer to the report ('Funding rule 'ties URA hands on cheap flats',' October 15).

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitted that the Urban Renewal Authority has structural problems in fulfilling its proper revitalisation role for society.

It needs to make outlandish 'luxury' property offers in order to turn a profit and thus cover its salaries and overheads.

The fundamental problem is that the government has decreed that the URA must be self-financing and cross-finance its schemes, instead of financing urban renewal from government land revenue.

As a result the URA has become a predatory authority. It searches for land profit in good localities where old buildings exist, and focuses on the huge redevelopment profits that are made by the amalgamation of land lots and by increasing the building bulk and height.

A classic example of this discriminatory system is the proposed demolition [and redevelopment] of Peel Street and Graham Street.

This project is not based on genuine urban renewal considerations but is deemed vital for the URA's financial profits because of the high land value that can be extracted at this prime Central location.

I support the efforts of Katty Law, of the Central and Western Concern Group ('Let's halt the destruction of historic Graham Street for profit', October 8) to bring some civic common sense to this matter. The URA's involvement in this locality is unwarranted and unwelcome.

The development secretary glibly states that 'the self-financing role of the authority will be upheld under the revised renewal strategy'.

Nonetheless, the bureaucratic blinkers need to come off so that the fundamental funding issue can be properly addressed.

The present financial method discriminates against homeowners in older buildings who are compelled to give up their homes and neighbourhood, and the local communities dismantled for URA profits. The Basic Law provides protection for property rights and makes no distinction between old and new buildings.

The government is ever willing to allocate billions of dollars from the capital works fund to mega-infrastructure projects, which have little economic viability or social benefit, but will stubbornly scrimp on projects that have a real social impact in our inner city.

Roger Emmerton, Wan Chai