Lai See
PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 1:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 1:06am

Fun at the park

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

We strongly concur with the West Kowloon Cultural Authority's aim of having a park "which is not another traditional government park". We have lamented before at the absence of large areas of grassy parks where people are free to lie around, picnic, and play with their children and pets.

Such areas are few and far between in Hong Kong since "open space" as the government likes to call it falls under the dreaded rule of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. We often had occasion to marvel at their management of squash courts where officials would interrupt games on the half hour either by turning off the lights or opening the doors in mid-game. But when the squash courts were used for ballroom dancing sessions they would happily let women wearing stiletto heels on to the courts, which have wooden floors.

Their approach to parks is not much better. Parks are supposed to be enjoyed but the LCSD does not appear to share this view, but instead sees them as an administrative horror.

This accounts for the menacing tone of the ordinance relating to "Pleasure Grounds Regulations" which is displayed at many parks. For the benefit of people who don't read these notices, it tells us to "behave in an orderly and decent manner" and must also be "decently clothed." No person "shall … walk, run, stand, sit or lie upon grass" when there are signs telling us not to do so.

Dogs have to be restrained. We are told we cannot bring "cattle, equines, sheep, goats, pigs, or poultry or any beast of draught or burden". Any such animals will be seized by the keeper, "and delivered into the custody of a police officer". Needless to say not much of this is enforced.

 

Planning permission issue gets curiouser and curiouser

Our civil service works in strange ways. We've had another look at the planning papers related to the Lands Department official Anita Lam Ka-fun who received planing permission to build four houses on agricultural land. We are curious as to the way the planning papers present the case which would not be out of place in Yes Minister as an example of bureaucratic cynicism.

At one point we read: "The proposed development of four NTEHs [small houses] is not entirely in line with the planning intentions of the 'AGR' zone which is to retain and safeguard good quality agricultural land /farm/fish ponds." The development, it goes on is "considered not incompatible with the surrounding environment which is predominantly rural in character".

We are told the Planning Department has no objections to the application. Then later in the paper we come across the following: "Alternatively, should the committee decide to reject the application, the following reasons for rejection are suggested for Member's reference: 'The proposed development is not in line with the planning intention of the 'AGR' zone", which is primarily to retain and safeguard good quality agricultural land.

It adds: "No strong submission has been provided in the submission for a departure in the planning intention." A further reason for rejection is: "The approval of the land would set an undesirable precedent for similar applications within the 'AGR' zone. The cumulative effect of approving such applications would result in the encroachment of good agricultural land, causing a general degradation of the rural environment … which is of high landscape value."

It seems odd that a senior Lands Department officer should be involved in a deal which "would set an undesirable precedent." But we live in strange times.

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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Fun at the park

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