My Take

Church developers remain unbowed by government rules

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 3:27am

In their ruthless pursuit of property development, some of our churches rival our developers.

Neighbours in Wan Chai fought for years against the Mega Tower, which has been scaled down and reincarnated as Hopewell Centre II. What many don't know is that they may end up with three huge religious mega towers - with all the negative effects on traffic, living quality and walled-in air flow.

All this is done with minimal consultation with neighbours and with the full connivance of government departments. It's all part of the government's outsourcing of social welfare services to religious bodies.

The Methodists have a nice little church at the junction of Kennedy Road and Queen's Road East. In defiance of zoning guidelines and a long-standing convention on building only low-rises at busy junctions, it wants to construct on the site new headquarters of up to 25 storeys.

The departments are bending over to accommodate the church, which has the arrogance to object to even minor government-proposed revisions to make the ground floor an open space and to set it back slightly to allow for ventilation. One objection voiced by a church representative at a Town Planning Board meeting was that wayward youths might hang out in the open space. So much for Christian compassion!

The church's recent submissions to the board amounted to an assertion of unbridled development rights.

No doubt, its leaders will say it needs the space for expanding services. But this is a church that already owns, in Wan Chai, The Wesley Hotel and the Methodist House, about a dozen floors of which will be returned to it when the lease for a commercial developer ends in five years.

Within spitting distance, the Church of Christ in China wants its own mega tower in an even more space-confining area with narrow streets. They and the Methodists have pending judicial reviews against the board over height restrictions in Wan Chai.

Meanwhile, under the Anglican Church, social services provider St James' Settlement is proceeding apace to completing a giant headquarters on Kennedy Road, despite neighbours' objections.

There is still a small window of opportunity for the public to demand that its voice be heard.