University gains Legco support over land use

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 4:24am

The government's bid to rezone a prime education site for housing encountered another hurdle yesterday when a Legislative Council panel objected to the plan.

Legco's education panel has urged the government to withdraw its plan to convert the 1.52-hectare site into luxury flats, and instead to keep the site for education.

The Kowloon Tong land is adjacent to Baptist University, which wants to build a teaching hospital for Chinese medicine there.

More than 100 students and university employees staged a loud protest outside the legislature during yesterday's meeting, accusing the government of "ignoring the needs of education".

Inside Legco, planning and education officials defended the rezoning as the result of thorough planning under "established mechanisms".

The battle for the site escalated recently, with officials and university executives giving different stories about behind-the-scenes moves leading to the rezoning plan.

The government claims the university was consulted beforehand, but university leaders say they were not told about the specific plan. Baptist University president Albert Chan Sun-chi told Legco yesterday that he had been kept in the dark.

"This is a matter of justice and will affect the long-term development of education in Hong Kong," he said.

He was surprised by a recent government proposal to divide the site into two, with the university to keep 0.64 hectares.

Development Bureau deputy secretary Thomas Chan Chung-ching told Legco that the government had used an established formula to calculate that the university only needed the smaller part of the divided site, and that the remaining 0.88 hectares should be used for housing. That sparked vehement criticism from legislators and student leaders.

Civic Party legislator Claudia Mo Man-ching described the disputed site as a small plot in terms of the larger community, but a "key" piece of land for the university because it is next to the campus. Lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said it made "common sense" to keep the site in the university's land bank.

Lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, from the Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre group, said too little had been done to develop Chinese medicine in the city. "Without a hospital, how can the sector develop?" he asked.

Baptist University student union president Fung Ching-man said if the site had to be given over to housing, it should at least be for cheaper homes, rather than the luxury flats that "would benefit property developers".

The rezoning was opposed last week by a committee of the Kowloon City district council, and awaits scrutiny from the Town Planning Board.