Victoria Harbour

Churches seek judicial review

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am

Two churches in Wan Chai are pursuing judicial challenges against the Town Planning Board over a decision to restrict their building heights, saying it would hamper their ability to provide health and welfare services.

The Methodist Church, Hong Kong, and the trustees of the Church of Christ in China have filed separate applications for leave to apply for a judicial review in the High Court, with the Town Planning Board as the proposed respondent.

The churches are seeking permission to apply to the court to overturn decisions of the Town Planning Board in April against their proposed amendments to a draft outline zoning plan for Wan Chai.

Amendments to the plan, gazetted in September introduced height restrictions on a number of buildings in the district and capped the height of the churches at their existing levels.

The Church of Christ is restricted to five storeys, while one of the Methodists' three sites, the Methodist International Church at 271 Queen's Road East, must stay at four.

The church's other two sites, Methodist House and the Wesley at 36 and 22 Hennessy Road, respectively, must remain at 95 and 75 metres above principal datum, the base point for determining height above sea level.

The Methodist Church - which was established in Hong Kong in 1884 - operates 12 kindergartens and nurseries, 11 primary schools, eight secondary schools, and seven social service agencies in addition to providing religious services at 23 churches and two chapels, according to its filing.

The Church of Christ in China says it has been providing worship, educational and community services to Hong Kong residents for nearly 150 years.

According to documents cited in the filings, the Planning Department said low-rise government, institution and community sites should stay at their existing heights to serve as visual and spatial relief.

The Church of Christ in China submitted a redevelopment plan in 2009. In its proposed amendments to the draft outline zoning plan in November it said all height restrictions on its site should be removed or, if one had to be imposed, for it to be at least 118 metres above principal datum.

At the Methodist International Church, there is a plan for a new building that would be used as a worship hall, office, minister's residence, and facilities for social services, among other functions.

The Methodist Church said in its writ that the Town Planning Board was required to plan for health and welfare needs in the surrounding area.

'However, there is no indication that any assessment was made of those needs. The effect of the draft plan, including the building height restrictions, is to reduce the amount of land provided for those needs generally and, in particular, the provision which can be made at the church sites.'

The two churches say the Town Planning Board discriminated against them and failed to inquire about material issues regarding representations they made to amend the draft outline zoning plan.