Residents rally against planned high-rise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am


Hundreds of residents from a large private housing estate rallied yesterday against a high-rise project that stands metres from their homes, accusing the developer of grabbing the development rights from them.

The government has said it will not interfere because the project is 'lawful', but residents are planning a judicial review against the building plan, which has been approved.

The rally at Mei Foo Sun Chuen ended with the middle-class homeowners, including many elderly and retirees, lying in the street outside the construction site.

'Developers' power has made Hong Kong's game over!' they chanted. They were joined by politicians from different parties, who urged the government to offer the developer a land exchange to move the tower.

Residents' anger blossomed last month when they saw work on the controversial apartment project finally start after a decade fighting it.

Billion Star Development, which bought the site from the developers of Mei Foo, New World Development and ExxonMobil Hong Kong, in 2009, wants to build a 20-storey block seven metres from Phase 8 of Mei Foo.

Two weeks ago, residents stopped one of its trucks entering the site at midnight. The building plan, submitted by Billion Star and New World Development, was approved last October. But an amendment issued later by the Buildings Department deleted New World as an applicant.

The leader of the campaign against the tower, Yip Siu-chau, said residents never expected the 1,350-square-metre site, which they thought was part of Phase 8 and which once housed an LPG storage plant that served the estate, would become the site of a new tower 30 years after Mei Foo was completed. The tower would block views from Phase 8 and occupy part of a private street previously maintained and used by residents, he said.

In 1999, Mobil Oil Hong Kong (later ExxonMobil) moved the LPG plant to another site it owned because of residents' safety fears. The company turned down a land exchange proposal by officials, but residents, unaware of the situation, believed the site had become government land.

Yip and supporting activists said Billion Star was able to build homes on the site because there was 'residual plot ratio' in Mei Foo Phase 8. In the 1970s, the developers applied for building plan approval for Phase 8 based on a site area that included the phase's 10 blocks and the plant lot.

The residual plot ratio stemmed from height restrictions set for land on the flight path for Kai Tak airport. Phase 8's maximum plot ratio - gross floor area divided by site area - of about 7.4 was therefore not fully used. A plot ratio of 6.74 was used, leaving about 120,000 square feet of floor space unbuilt.

The residents now argue that Billion Star has no right to the unrealised development potential, which should be shared with Phase 8.

Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said at the rally: 'Because the original Phase 8 site calculations included the LPG plant, any residual development rights belong to everyone [in Phase 8]. Why can the developer steal all the rights? The government must explain.'

Eu said the management company also owed an explanation as to why it sold part of the private street to Billion Star, since the street had been maintained with Mei Foo residents' money.

Billion Star did not respond to inquiries yesterday. Last week, it said it had full ownership rights over the site.

'To keep a friendly relationship with our neighbours ... we have drastically cut the gross floor area by 50 per cent in the latest proposal to about 50,000 square feet, and relocated the building so it will stand at least seven metres from Phase 8,' the company said.

A spokesman for New World said it had nothing to do with the matter as the company had sold the land.

The Development Bureau said in a statement last night it had no case to interfere in a lawful project.