Legal challenge threat over west wing sale

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2011, 12:00am


Opponents of the redevelopment of Government Hill claim officials charged with vetting their counter-proposal are abusing the Town Planning Board process. They have not ruled out a legal challenge.

The Government Hill Concern Group claims the man who is spearheading the sale of the west wing of the Central Government Offices may chair the board meeting examining its proposal.

The group's plan is to preserve the area as a heritage zone. It was sent to the board along with expert reports on Government Hill's architectural merit and history. The documents warn against the environmental impact of the redevelopment plan.

The submission is scheduled for discussion by the board in August. The group wrote to the government pointing out the potential conflict of interest, and demanding that no development or planning officials chair the meeting.

The chairman of the board is permanent secretary for development Thomas Chow Tat-ming, whose bureau is in charge of pushing forward the redevelopment of the west wing of the Central Government Offices for office space.

The group says that the board replied, saying it did not see any conflict in having an official chair the meeting.

'Chow can't be a football player and a referee at the same time. Also, he is a subordinate of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the subject officer of this project who has repeatedly said the demolition of West Wing would go ahead,' said Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of The Professional Commons and a member of the concern group, yesterday.

Katty Law Ngar-ning, another member of the concern group, said it was unacceptable because in the past in meetings concerning Urban Renewal Authority projects, planning officials would step down from the meeting to avoid a conflict of interest. 'If the permanent secretary goes on to chair the meeting on our plan, we won't feel we have a fair trial.'

Asked if the group would mount a legal challenge to the government, Lai said it was 'still too early to say' but added: 'Our lawyers say if Chow really steers the meeting, it will amount to a violation of rules and it will be an adequate ground for a legal challenge.'

The government proposes that the west wing, one of three low-rise buildings designed in the 1950s to preserve the harbour view from Government House, be sold to a private developer and be replaced with a 32-storey office block and an underground car park.

Historians, environmentalists, urban planners and conservation groups have campaigned against the project for months, saying moving the west wing into private hands would destroy the integrity of Government Hill.

The grouping of the government offices, Government House, St John's Cathedral and the French Mission Building gave rise to the name Government Hill as early as 1842.