My Take

Public services dumped on the sidelines

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:21am

Not all new parents are equal. Suppose you live on Hong Kong Island and need to get a birth entry certificate for your child. Well, you can easily do that at the government building in Admiralty and then have a nice lunch in an upmarket mall or stroll through one of the city's nicest parks.

But, as a reader has complained, if you have to get it through the Kowloon Births Registry in Yau Ma Tei, you will have the privilege of walking past a garbage collection depot with big smelly trucks coming in and out of the area at regular intervals. Across the street is a recycling point. Don't take your kid with you if you can avoid it. Now I am not too fussed about the inconvenience of getting a birth entry certificate in Kowloon. But this is a symptom of a larger problem. More and more government and social services are located in undesirable, inaccessible and sometimes downright disgusting places. Why?

There is a simple explanation for that. Officials have, in recent years, ridden roughshod over the use of land zoned for government, institution or community (GIC). The old policy is that land zoned as such provides much needed community services in each district, especially in poor neighbourhoods. They were zoned so adequate social services as well as recreational facilities such as parks can be provided to neighbours.

Officials now routinely ignore GIC requirements and government departments often count themselves as meeting requirements even if inadequate services are provided. As substitutes, churches and religious groups are often encouraged to take over existing public facilities if they can offer such services.

The trend of undermining GIC looks set to accelerate under Leung Chun-ying, whose idée fixe of appropriating more and more land, regardless of zoning rules, to provide for housing is only making things worse.

His government is targeting dozens of GIC sites for rezoning so the chief executive may find enough land. After all, an obedient Town Planning Board, which is more lapdog than watchdog, will oblige in most cases. But such thoughtless zoning conversions ignore community needs and deprive neighbours of public facilities and support that make life easier and more pleasant.