Fees on use of piazza must be disclosed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 February, 2011, 12:00am

A court has ordered Times Square to produce documents on the amounts it charged exhibition and display organisers to use its piazza as well as other related information.

The order was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Building Authority against Times Square to reclaim money it received for the use of its public piazza.

Under the order, Times Square has 30 days from yesterday to collate documents related to its granting of permission for exhibitions and displays held in the public space from 1993 to 2008; the fees it charged; and expenses, including costs for crowd control, technical support, cleaning, and certain other services.

In a statement after the ruling, Times Square said it 'respects the court's decision and will comply with our discovery obligations'. Discovery refers to the process through which parties to a lawsuit can obtain evidence from the other side before trial.

Deputy Judge Louis Chan Kong-yiu made the order in a judgment at the Court of First Instance yesterday, after a hearing on preliminary issues on the government's lawsuit against Times Square Limited, which owns the land on which the mall and office complex of the same name stands.

The Secretary for Justice filed the claim seeking damages from the company for breaching a deed of dedication under which it agreed more than 3,000 square metres of land on the street level of Times Square would be available for pedestrian passage and temporary recreation. That, the judgment said, was in return for the government granting bonus site ratio, or building space, for the site.

The authority alleges Times Square breached the deed by taking in more than permitted charges, claiming it sought HK$124,000 a day for use of public space.

The judgment said Times Square was 'obviously trying not to comply with its discovery obligations'. The documents that the authority is seeking are 'clearly relevant'. Times Square should have disclosed them, but did not do so.

The company earlier declined to provide the documents and the authority applied to the court to get them, the written ruling said. Meanwhile, the company asked that the court rule on certain preliminary issues before the trial.

At the hearing, Ambrose Ho SC, argued for Times Square, on a point of law, that the authority was not entitled to claim damages for profits from leasing out the piazza. He said damages were usually granted to an innocent party that suffered loss due to breach of contract by the other party, while in this case the authority had not suffered losses.

But Benjamin Yu SC, for the authority, insisted it was entitled to claim more than nominal damages.

In addition to the order on the documents, the judge dismissed the company's application to have the preliminary issues determined before the trial, noting they were not simple and might be fact-sensitive, and might require canvassing of the facts of the case at trial.

Times Square said it had not been charging for exhibitions at the piazza since 2008. 'The piazza has been and will continue to be used by government, non-governmental organisations and charitable organisations for activities upon applications and subject to certain criteria,' it said.