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  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 9:10am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 3:18am

Buildings officials fail residents in dilapidated neighbourhoods

Having failed to prevent the fatal collapse in Ma Tau Wai more than three years ago, the Buildings Department is now going overboard with the unsafe structures at an old tenement in To Kwa Wan. And having failed to redevelop earlier this old and dilapidated neighbourhood, the Urban Renewal Authority is finally being forced to act.

What was the department thinking when it just gave a week's notice to dozens of families to vacate their homes at a block in Kai Ming Street and told them they would not be allowed back home for at least five months? After the residents fought back and an angry chief secretary intervened, Buildings Department bureaucrats changed their tune. Maybe the balconies do not need to be demolished immediately, a spokesman said. That can wait. Instead inspectors will stabilise the balconies and probe the main structure for danger signs. The residents still have to leave after the court issued a closure order yesterday, but they will be allowed to return after several weeks.

No doubt Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's intervention was what prompted new URA chairman Victor So Hing-woh to make a quick site visit. This raises hope that the URA will work to compensate residents here and in nearby blocks so they can be redeveloped. Several district councillors believe the vast majority of residents will be happy to take the money and let the rundown neighbourhood be redeveloped.

The real scandal is that such old neighbourhoods with dilapidated and dangerous buildings should have been redeveloped years ago, but were not. The URA seems to have forgotten what it is for. Under So's predecessors, including the embattled Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, it has been in bed with favoured developers, which naturally prefer prime sites with real profit potential. So they prefer stylish old neighbourhoods like Lee Tung Street, Wan Chai, and around SoHo. The vibrant neighbourhoods in SoHo can and have attracted flat buyers and investors, and do not need the URA.

The system has failed the residents of To Kwa Wan. Now that the ineptitude and callousness of the authorities have been exposed, let's hope they will do the right thing.

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This article is now closed to comments

johnyuan
Plot ratio is determined by planners who take health and safety of the public into consideration. Once a parcel has its plot ratio determined, it doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. But still it should subject to the same criteria – health and safety. Plot ratio is not a tool for making profit. It is more like giving a limit on profit by assuring the public’s health and safety.
......
URA shouldn't be motivated by profits and I don't think it is its mission. Urban renewal is a necessary means in keeping a city of its buildings and traffics still a place safe and healthy to live. It is a shame that URA and plenty Hong Kong people missing the true function and purpose of urban renewal.
rpasea
I agree with the comment that many of these areas should have been redeveloped years ago. One of the limiting factors in redeveloping older sections of Hong Kong is govt's policy on plot ratios thus limiting the re-development potential. If a site has maxed out its plot ratio, a redevelopment would mean the same gross floor area would result so buying out existing owners at "market rates" for political reasons and then having a new development also at market rates does not bode well for a profitable exercise.
The URA, as an arm of govt, could have the authority to increase the plot ratio for redevelopment of these sites thus introducing a profit factor for developers. Increase the plot ratio and eliminate the 100% site coverage to 15 meters currently allowed would result in a more vertical city with increased open space at ground level, an enhancement that HK desperately needs.
John Adams
Agreed - the URA should not be motivated by profits
Camel
Why should taxmoney been used to redevelope this old building? This building is not a public nor government bulding but private and using my taxmoney to revalue their properties is not I had in mind when paying my taxes.
megafun
URA has a mission, and it has failed terribly. Lets hope all old buildings gets renovated, and not re-developed, as long as they are still structurally sound.
In an age where our children learn about the 3Rs - with Re-Use being the most important, maybe URA and HK Gov can re-use our old buildings, and do not take an easy option by merely throwing out an old building for profit's sake.
rpasea
Many if not most of the buildings in question are simply not suitable for renovation. The construction technology and standards when built would never be considered acceptable today. Buildings are like any other complex machine and replacement is the only viable option at a certain age. No one still drives cars from the 1950's for daily use so why does one expect buildings to last forever?
johnyuan
When Le Corbusier equated modern building as a machine for living, he was not equating literally. He was seeing a house design to be fitting efficiently like a machine for a healthy living. In fact his villas and public buildings are still in use after a century treasured and in use, albeit some must be renovated and often because they were not detailed properly. Hong Kong’s old buildings especially the Tong Lau being pushed for replacement suffered from greed and neglect on the part of property developers and owners respectively. In fact the love of new in Chinese culture facilitated the lost of our building history in Hong Kong -- a preference among general public. There is no absolute reason to tear down a 50 years old building because it is not a machine. I expect a building's life expectancy lasts indefinitely.
megafun
KS Wong & C Loh, both knows about "Green building fundings"; they ought to step into URA and provide them with green improvement financing. Kindly take note its financing and not subsidy. All green features usually has a "pay-back" period, and as long as the interest rate is lower than the pay-back, our Green building funding ought to work.
rpasea
Plot ratio is set to establish the economic value of the land as well as the integration with the surroundings. Density is a factor certainly but govt has done more to densify HK with the 100% site coverage allowance to 15m than anything else. Increase plot ratios but drop the 100% site coverage allowed for the podium. Buildings would then go vertically with more open space at ground level.
The URA is not interested in profits but the developers it partners with are. If you do not allow any profit, govt would need to foot 100% of the bill and we would end up with a less than marketable product.
johnyuan
1.
Economic is a factor too in setting the development intensity (plot ratio) of a piece of land. Real estate sector in fact is part of the contributor apart from government agencies in setting zoning regulations which include plot ratio for each land parcel. This is at least the practice in New York City since 1941 with its comprehensive system of zoning which I believe Hong Kong modeled. I believe in redeveloping an existing parcel of land (with a building already occupying it) Hong Kong’s real estate sector, often fronted by the Urban Renewal Authority neglects the general public’s health, safety and wellbeing of which the parcel of land originally zoned. Hong Kong has plenty of old land parcels wishing to be redeveloped by property developers. Hong Kong may study the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) adopted since 1976 again in the New York City. It is a fair process whereby the process allows neighbors to participate. So objection to redevelopment can be a factor.

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