Owners of old flats keen on URA scheme

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am


Owners of at least 10 clusters of old residential buildings are interested in inviting the Urban Renewal Authority to redevelop their flats under a new scheme, details of which will be announced by the authority today.

Dubbed a demand-led approach, the new mechanism allows owners to initiate and apply for redevelopment if a majority agrees to it.

It is aimed at tackling public concerns about the URA's lack of transparency in selecting projects and the impression that it chooses only profitable ones.

Most of those who expressed interest live in old tenement buildings in Tai Kok Tsui, Sham Shui Po, To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City, where lifts are lacking and flats are often divided into rental apartments.

'These old buildings were built in the 1960s,' Yau Tsim Mong district councillor Henry Chan Man-yu said.

'Elderly people living in poor conditions have to walk up as far as the ninth floor, while the division of flats aimed at tenants looking for a cheap place undermines the safety of the buildings.'

He said most residents living in Tai Nan, Ki Lung and Poplar streets in Sham Shui Po wanted redevelopment, although consensus had not been gained from shop owners.

Property owners typically wait ages for the URA to move in and redevelop their sites or invite private developers to acquire their estate. The latter approach often yields a lower price and takes years.

The new mechanism provides an extra option to such people. It arose from a review held last year to improve the old urban renewal strategy.

A person close to the URA said board members would decide today the percentage of owners that should be regarded as a majority, the circumstances in which the authority should accept the applications and the financial implications.

The authority will still acquire land, offer compensation and rehouse affected residents, as it does in existing projects. But to secure URA approval, the redevelopment should be identified as urgent by the district urban renewal forum, a committee that formulates renewal strategy for various districts.

Preliminary rules state that an applicant must gain majority consensus from owners at two stages - when they apply for redevelopment and after the authority announces the acquisition price. Redevelopment will begin only when a certain percentage of owners endorse it.

But it is unclear if the project must be financially viable.

'I hope the authority will not approve profitable projects only. Or it will be little different from a developer,' Chan said.

Kowloon City district councillor Siu Yuen-sheung, a member of the district urban renewal forum, believes the new mechanism will attract many applicants, such as people living in the run-down district of To Kwa Wan known as 'Thirteen Streets', as the latest acquisition price offered by the URA this month to residents of nearby Ma Tau Wai is at a record-breaking compensation of HK$9,785 per square foot.