Lai See

Hopewell planning application angers Kennedy Road residents

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 4:10am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 4:10am

Kennedy Road residents are up in arms over Hopewell Holdings' latest planning application, which they say seeks to unravel a deal struck with the government in 2008.

Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, the chairman of Hopewell, agreed in 2008 to reduce the size of the 93-storey hotel he was proposing to build to 55 storeys in exchange for a land swap agreement. He also dropped the massive "wall block" design of the building in favour of a "Y-shaped" building and scrapped the significant facilities he had proposed.

Kennedy Road residents had fought his plans for more than 10 years because access to this monster development was to be through Kennedy Road. At various stages before 2004, Hopewell had sought permission from the Town Planning Board for convention and exhibition facilities but the board rejected them. One of the reasons was Kennedy Road is a residential area and is not suited to the surge in traffic that would accompany the facilities. The Transport Department also opposed it for this reason.

So it was with some dismay that residents recently learnt that despite having struck this landmark deal with the government in 2008, Hopewell has quietly submitted an application to the Town Planning Board recently which intends to reintroduce the "wall block" design and add a massive podium with a large 1,500-seat convention theatre together with 50,000 sq ft of additional facilities. These are the very facilities that were strenuously opposed by residents and rejected by the board in 2004 and 2005.

The recent application represents a major change to the original proposals but Hopewell is trying to slip these through the board as "minor refinements and enhancements". The application also refers to the changes as hotel-related convention facilities.

Opponents say the convention and exhibition facilities are so extensive that it is inappropriate to consider them hotel-related. They say under the terms of the Comprehensive Redevelopment Area, convention and exhibition facilities are not allowed. If Hopewell wants a convention centre, then they argue it should make a rezoning application for a convention and exhibition centre, which is a much longer process.

The Kennedy Road Protection Group has drafted a letter to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor which concludes, "Our objection to this latest Hopewell proposal is that it shows disrespect to the government and to the planning system and ordinance, and of course to the community. The developer's massive schemes had floundered in 2003-2008 because of strong public opposition to the development bulk and traffic impact." It goes on to say, "The developer is now reneging by changing the use and scope of the building."

The letter urges Lam to "step in on behalf of the public to assert some common sense and integrity", and make Hopewell "honour its part of the 2008 agreement."

It is worth noting in passing the level of destruction that Hopewell has wreaked in what was an older area with some charm. The banyan trees, some of them 50 to 80 years old, were some of the finest examples in Hong Kong. Hopewell, with government permission, has cut down about 500 of them. There were fine 7-metre-wide granite steps up Ship Street which have been destroyed so that the developer can get access to the construction site. This is yet another example of the ruination of a pleasant area of Hong Kong that could have been restored, and the magnificent banyan trees retained. Instead, it has been sacrificed with government assistance to a developer in the interests of what is laughably called "revitalisation" of the area.