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.