Has the URA returned to its old tricks?
A ‘revised’ plan for the mega-redevelopment project in Kwun Tong has either ditched or significantly altered the design that largely won people over with its open spaces and public amenities. It now looks like the balance has shifted in favour of commercial operators and developers
Is the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) being sneaky again? The new and improved URA is supposed to be more people-oriented, caring and responsive to local needs, and to stop being overly-friendly to big developers.
But its recent submission on its mega-redevelopment project in Kwun Tong to the Town Planning Board has again raised questions about whether it is back to its old tricks again. After several public consultations in the past 10 years, it has done a reasonably good job arriving at a consensus on how to redevelop the centre core of the district.
People have been won over largely because the original design promises greater wide-open spaces and public amenities in proportion to commercial developments:
● A kaifong-style (neighbourly) street and bazaar
● Restrictions on building height to free up public open space on the ground
● An oval-shaped multi-purpose civic centre
● Green coverage of almost 30 per cent of the site area
● Enlarging an existing garden by four times and preserving old trees
● An all-weather integrated public transport interchange to enable the open areas to become car-free
These provisions have either been dropped or significantly altered. It’s bye-bye to the “iconic” oval-shaped civic centre. In its place, a commercial mall. Height restrictions? A large commercial development has been raised by 20 metres, thereby creating more areas for retail shopping, hotel and offices. Big garden and open spaces? How about rooftop greenery instead?
But at least residents will get a car-free, pedestrian-friendly zone at the centre, right? Apparently, you may now have to walk through a big mall to get to your car or public transport, thereby increasing shopper volume.
The whole site takes up 5.35 hectares, making it the largest project in its portfolio. It now looks like the balance has shifted in favour of commercial operators and developers.
This sounds like a repeat of the redevelopments in Mong Kok’s Fa Yuen Street, aka Sneakers Street, and Wan Chai’s Lee Tung Street, aka Wedding Card Street. Kick out the local retailers and old neighbours; bring in the big brands and build expensive flats.
Few people knew about the changes, until the revised plan was submitted to the board. Under public pressure, the URA now says the plan is not final. That’s hardly reassuring. There is still a chance to keep the URA honest, but only if we hold its feet to the fire.