Spectre of legal costs drove some residents out of fight
In one of three court cases involving the Mei Foo development, six of the hundreds of people who could potentially block the construction have agreed to be bound by an injunction sought by Billion Star. They have also consented not to prevent Billion Star from carrying out work on the site.
Five of the residents said they bowed to the developer's demands because they were worried about the enormous legal costs arising from litigation. The developer said that on a number of times since March the group formed a human barricade to block the only access road leading to the construction site, stopping its trucks from getting in or out.
The sixth respondent, former district councillor Joe Wong Tak-chuen, said last month that he and the other defendants decided to settle with the developer because of financial pressure. 'Some of us and also other Mei Foo residents are worried we will lose in the end and have to pay the legal costs,' he said. 'It's all about money. If you don't have money, you can't play this game.'
Residents were pessimistic, he said, because they earlier lost their appeal for a judicial review of the Building Authority's decision allowing Billion Star to proceed with the development, a project which they had argued was illegal.
Nevertheless, in a second case involving the Mei Foo site, the residents are seeking an appeal against the court's decision in August not to award a judicial review. In a third case, they are also arguing that the developer does not have full ownership of the site.
While agreeing to be bound by the injunction, the six have not consented to paying the HK$1.4 million the developer claims it lost due to delays in construction.
The climbdown by the ex-councillor and the residents left lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, Claudia Mo Man-ching and Tsang Kin-shing as the sole named respondents to Billion Star's application for an injunction. Leung and Mo argue that the injunction is an attempt to smother freedom of speech, assembly and rally.
While the court cases are still pending, Billion Star has suspended work at the site, which covers around 8 per cent of the Mei Foo complex and which Billion Star bought in 2009 for US$15 million.
When residents lost their bid for a judicial review, a lawyer for Billion Star Development warned them that they would 'pay the legal consequences' if they tried to block access to the site again.