PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2010, 12:00am

Transparency needed on land premiums

On October 21 you printed my letter 'Street traders will not benefit from tunnels and footbridges', in which I questioned the rights of Hopewell Holdings to tunnel under and cover over the streets of Wan Chai.

In my closing line, I asked 'could the Lands Department advise what criteria it is using to determine land premium on the ground beneath our pavements and streets, and use of public space above'.

In view of the startling revelation in your paper ('Error nets HK$1.5b bonus for developer', November 23) in which your reporter describes how Cheung Kong (Holdings) was undercharged by this whopping figure in land premium on the 1881 Heritage development [the historic Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui], I am sure that there are many people in the community who now want an answer to this question.

The Lands Department must publish full details of the formula it is using to calculate the premium on our most valuable assets - the ground beneath our feet and the space above our heads - as the developers appear to be making up the rules as they go along.

While the government is whingeing that there is no spare cash to spend on social programmes to help deprived families and the elderly, potential sources of lucrative income are being gifted to property developers.

Hong Kong does not need a Tycoon Collusion Charity Fund; what it does need is an open and transparent system with clearly defined formulas and a level playing field for all stakeholders.

We look forward to full disclosure from Mr Thomas Chow Tat-ming, permanent secretary of the Development Bureau, on how the tunnel and walkway premiums are evaluated and under what criteria private developers are allowed to excavate beneath public streets and block off ventilation and sightlines above.

Candy Tam, Wan Chai

Poppy-wearing goes too far

I refer to the debate about British Prime Minister David Cameron wearing a red poppy on his recent trip to Asia. The red poppy's symbolic significance depends neither on botany nor on any associated historical event, but on the feelings it evokes.

The symbol, which is used to commemorate the armistice ending the first world war, originated from In Flanders Fields, a wartime poem that urged the continuation of the struggle thus: 'Take up our quarrel with the foe ... [or] we shall not sleep though poppies grow in Flanders fields'.

These aren't exactly words of peace and reconciliation. Conflict resumed within two decades of the armistice and erupted into the second world war. Both world wars were caused by imperial powers' scramble for annexations. The red poppy is a symbol of a vendetta that served Britain's imperialism. British soldiers died for imperial ambitions and not for the liberty of colonial subjects. When Winston Churchill learned that millions of Indians needlessly died in famines because of his order to divert food to already well-supplied British soldiers, he responded with the question: [if the famine is so bad] why hasn't Gandhi died yet? (This claim is made by Madhusree Mukerjee in the book Churchill's Secret War).

The Chinese government was right to convey to Mr Cameron its opinion about flaunting the red poppy in diplomatic meetings. In the group photo of 33 leaders from the Group of 20 nations ('G20 refuses to back US push for action on yuan', November 13), the British prime minister looked singularly peculiar with his red poppy. He was responsible for his decision to publicise British parochialism.

Rosanna Yam, Mid-Levels

Leave Old Peak Road alone

I refer to the letter from H.L. Cheng, the Transport Department's chief traffic engineer ('Old Peak Road safety is priority', November 20). We are disappointed to note that the department is persisting with 'preventive measures to enhance safety' by adding barriers along the Old Peak Road hiking trail - even though there is a 100 per cent safety record on this well-used hiking trail. We are curious to know how much more the department thinks safety can be enhanced.

As we have repeatedly pointed out, Mr Cheng's predecessors were fully aware of the steep drop on the side of the road when they built it almost 100 years ago. In their wisdom, they designed and built a kerb along the edge of this path - which is actually more like a road with light pedestrian traffic. For a long time, the kerb has proved more than adequate to ensure the safety of the many hundreds who use this trail every day.

Hikers have insisted the department should drop this project as 1) there is no compelling safety issue; 2) it is a waste of public money; and 3) it will damage a relatively pristine urban environment that is easily accessible from Central, Mid-Levels and The Peak.

In view of the persistence of the department in the face of public opposition, we should make the further point that its disregard of the public's views makes a mockery of the public consultation process and, by hurting the sentiment of the public, damages our trust in government as stewards of the public interest.

It is high time the department listened to the public: leave Old Peak Road alone.

Vivian Leung, chairman, Lung Fu Shan Environmental Concern Group

Bubble tea and teens' health

Milk tea shops have become trendy, and I feel concerned about the health problems for teenagers of drinking too much bubble milk tea. Those drinks contain lots of sugar, which may lead to obesity or even heart disease. Some of the drinks are very colourful, and may contain a lot of chemical substances. We do not know whether it is harmful to us, but we better drink less of it. I suggest teens ask for less sugar when they buy bubble milk tea.

Janet Chong Cho-man, Tseung Kwan O

China weak on animal rights

The mainland needs to uphold animal rights and consolidate animal-friendly policies. Mainlanders have a reputation of being able to eat anything, even some bizarre animals such as hippos, bears, etc.

In the Beijing Zoo restaurant, such animals appear on the menu. After people have fun watching them, they can eat them in the restaurant.

Also, there has recently been news about people mistreating animals. In Sichuan , a company specialises in making videos about cruelty to animals, which it sells overseas ('Outcry over online clips showing 'crush fetishists' mangling rabbits', November 26).

These are unforgivable ways to treat those cuddly animals.

In Hong Kong, animal-friendly policy is vague and indefinite, yet the government has tried to strengthen and uphold the law on protecting animals. I think the mainland should take action like Hong Kong, and be aware of these serious problems.

People should also take the initiative to stop eating exotic animals, and educate our next generation to be kind to animals.

Francess Chan, Hung Hom

How about land 'gift' for the city?

The Chinese government holds vast estates in Hong Kong as a result of the takeover of the former British military sites. Several sites are not being fully used; all have good road access.

We are not suggesting that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioner's new residence ('Pressure grows over land 'gift', November 26) be located in one of these generally far-flung outposts. However, we do suggest that the same flexibility be afforded the Hong Kong government in its search for sites as has been afforded the Chinese government.

Hong Kong is in need of land for specialised uses - the new incinerator is a particularly topical case in point - and we see no reason why unused military land should be left out of the site search equation simply because it belongs to the People's Liberation Army. Hong Kong is gifting the commissioner an extremely valuable site for his residence: can the PLA not give us one for our incinerator?

Clive Noffke, Green Lantau Association

University hub logic hard to see

I am more than a little puzzled. Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung is doing everything in his power to convince schools to adopt a class-reduction scheme because the number of students is plummeting ('Minister stands firm on cuts to secondary classes despite protests', November 16).

The Education Bureau predicts that the number of Form One students will decline from the current 75,400 to 53,900 by the end of the 2016-17 academic year. Participating schools are required to cut the number of Form One classes from five to four.

However, we are now told that we will pay for the construction of a large university complex on the Lok Ma Chau Loop. The plan is to house half of its 24,000 students in dormitory accommodation, which implies that 12,000 students will be local. Assuming that local students will live on campus for one year, this translates into an additional 15,000 university places for Hong Kong students.

If the number of secondary school students is to fall by 40 per cent in the next seven years, what is the rationale behind the proposal to increase university places by 15,000? Could Mr Suen please explain the logic of this proposal? SCMP readers with young children would also like to know what health risks students would encounter through residing on a pile of toxic mud for months on end?

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan