Floor size estimates to go after tender row

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 December, 2010, 12:00am

Stung by criticism that it failed to account for 1,310 square metres of space when it sold the former Marine Police headquarters to developer Cheung Kong (Holdings), the government announced how it plans to avoid such problems in future.

It simply will not provide any more estimates of gross floor area.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told lawmakers yesterday that the government will cease providing estimated gross floor area that developers can use when it tenders historic buildings.

Lam called her decision pragmatic as she responded to legislators' questions on the 30 per cent shortfall between the government's pre-tender estimate of 4,300 square metres and the space that proved to be actually available to Cheung Kong in its redevelopment of the historic headquarters site in Tsim Sha Tsui, now known as 1881 Heritage.

'The lands issue is very sensitive, even though we estimate in good faith,' Lam said. 'In the future, when it is different, there will be misunderstanding and unnecessary speculation, so judging from this, I prefer we will not make any estimation.'

She said the government had difficulty in calculating gross floor area in the same way developers did.

'The government may not have floor plans for the historic buildings,' she said. 'Meanwhile, as government buildings are exempted from the Buildings Ordinance, the government has a different way to calculate gross floor area.'

Lam's remarks shocked legislators. Lee Wing-tat of the Democratic Party and Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan called her decision irresponsible.

Lee said Lam's plan would deprive lawmakers and the public of knowing the true potential of historic buildings. 'Does she mean we should ask the developers the gross floor area of our historic buildings?'

Chan questioned how the government would be able to control redevelopment. 'Without knowing the gross floor area, how will the government know whether the developers are following the rules and not making alterations to the monuments?'

A Development Bureau spokesman said it was too early to explain how tenders would be done. 'We are talking about projects in the future. We haven't got any case so we can't tell you what we are going to do.'

Tycoon Li Ka-shing's flagship firm won the tender in May 2003 to revitalise the abandoned grade one monument by paying HK$352.8 million for a 50-year land grant.

Lam yesterday disclosed for the first time that Cheung Kong's survey, made after its acquisition of the property, showed the historical buildings' gross space was 6,172 square metres. It proposed a technical amendment in June 2006, but a joint survey concluded the space should be 5,610 square metres. She did not elaborate on areas that would not be counted.