My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:13am

Planners hardly inspire confidence

BIO

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.
 

Here's a political puzzle I don't have the answer to. People are mad at Leung Chun-ying, our chief executive. Many also object to a plan to convert a century-old heritage mansion into a boutique hotel. Now, why haven't they connected the dots?

The director of the company that owns the site and is behind the hotel plan is Yau Tang-tit, brother of Chief Executive Office director Edward Yau Tang-wah, who is also the former - and I may add, highly mediocre - environment bureau chief. That does not seem to have raised too many eyebrows. We are sure Leung and Yau never took a personal interest in the project. But given the membership of the Town Planning Board, the project has had a remarkably easy time getting approval this month. This is despite vocal objections from the Central and Western District Council and more than 150 objections raised with the board.

Let's see who sits on the board. The Permanent Secretary for Development is the chairman. Other government members include: the Director of Planning; Deputy Secretary Transport and Housing; Director of Home Affairs; Director of Environmental Protection, which is under the Environment Bureau; Director of Lands; and Deputy Director of Planning. These are backed by alternate members who are also senior government officials. The Chief Executive appointed most of the other non-government members.

Given their membership, it's little wonder they rarely cast a critical eye over most projects, however controversial. The surroundings near the house on Lugard Road have an open view of Victoria Harbour, so many visitors and hikers go there on weekends and holidays. The neighbours are worried that the narrow road would not be able to accommodate more traffic if the hotel is built.

The board has praised the owner for taking the initiative to protect the heritage mansion, which has grade-two historic status. After all, a board spokesman said, "An owner could tear it down any time." Well, how nice of them! Perhaps the developer should get an award, not just the green light.

The board is key to making our city world-class and liveable. But often its decisions do little to inspire confidence.

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