Officials should be honest about their plans for Government Hill

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 December, 2010, 12:00am

I refer to Ken Borthwick's excellent article on the 'proposal to sell the West Wing of the Central Government Offices to a developer' ('Selling out', December 23). I can think of a number of words to describe the Planning Department and Development Bureau, and one of the printable ones would be 'disingenuous' - defined as slyly deceptive or misleading.

The handout from the department and bureau on the Central Government Office redevelopment states that site coverage there will be only 23 per cent, suggesting that 77 per cent of the site from Ice House Street to St John's Cathedral will not be impacted at all.

They further suggest that their proposal 'preserves the heritage precinct' between Queen's Road and Lower Albert Road, and restores green Central by 'providing more greenery' and introduces architecture of a 'compatible building design'.

These are great promises, but are really quite difficult to fulfil when you consider that their plan also proposes to completely remove the hill that currently supports all that history and existing greenery.

Their drawings indicate an excavation zone that is almost 90 per cent of the entire site in which the hill will be dug out to Queen's Road level, creating a pit more than 30 metres deep in which a concrete shopping mall will be built.

This addition to Hong Kong's' existing over-supply of high-end retailers will then be coated with a thin veneer of greenery on the sides and top to make it look environmentally responsible. But mature trees do not grow on concrete and, even if a tiny handful of existing examples are to be maintained, the Planning Department admits that most will be removed and will not be replaceable.

Every trace of those trees and the remains of historic buildings and sites from the hill will be scooped out and shipped off as landfill to some mainland shoreline extension far away from here. How can we preserve a heritage site when it has been turned into landfill somewhere else? So what would be better?

It is not difficult to answer - the Planning Department should read the recommendations of the consultants it hired to assess this project, and to whom it refers in the information package.

By all means add a building on the lower part of the site at the foot of Ice House Street that was carved out 150 years ago for the original Ice House.

Put a shiny new building there if you must - it was ruined years ago - but leave the rest of that hillside alone and give us back our public access to that green and tranquil lung in Central as soon as the civil servants move out.

Add more trees, but don't dig out what is there already.

Learn to make use of natural resources that will serve the community for generations rather than replacing them with concrete shells that benefit only a single development company.

John Bowden, chair, Save Our Shorelines