Urban Renewal Authority board members said the authority's new proposal to preserve Wing Lee Street in Sheung Wan was rushed and there had been no discussion of the rationale behind it.
On Tuesday, URA chairman Barry Cheung Chun-yuen announced a new alternative to preserve Wing Lee Street, under which all its 12 tenements would be spared demolition. The original plan, which involved preserving only three tenements, was to have been discussed by the Town Planning Board tomorrow.
URA board members said a meeting of its conservation committee on March 2 agreed to push forward with the original plan. They said the authority's management had then issued them a paper on Monday, and asked them to decide immediately whether or not to authorise the management to submit the alternative proposal to preserve all the blocks.
'[At the meeting] everyone agreed the buildings did not much have character,' board member Wong Kwok-kin said. 'And the site does not carry deep historic value. So we agreed some development and revitalisation would be enough.'
Wong questioned whether the decision to change the plan was linked to a film, Echoes of the Rainbow, which was shot on the street and won an award at the Berlin International Film Festival last month. He also asked by what standards the decision was made.
Another board member, Tanya Chan, who had proposed saving the whole street, said there was no follow-up after she received the paper on the alternative plan. 'The details were not known to me until Tuesday,' she said. The alternative was a big change from the original plan and a URA board meeting should have been held before the new proposal was handed to the Town Planning Board.
The alternative is seen as a bow to pressure from the public and conservationists to preserve the street, the last complete street of tong lau - tenements from the early post-war years that were once very common.
A URA spokesman said the alternative was an extension to the original plan.
The URA management held that it should submit a feasible and well-received alternative to the Town Planning Board after reviewing the situation early this month, the spokesman said. The management asked the board for authorisation to handle the case flexibly because there was an urgent need for them to come up with an alternative, which would involve a lot technical decisions, before tomorrow, when the Town Planning Board was to discuss the original plan. It had received authorisations from most board members, he said.
The government and the authority deny the plan marks a U-turn.
The authority has bought half the 24 property interests in Wing Lee Street but will not buy any more if the alternative plan is adopted. Owners of the nine tenements not in URA hands will be asked to preserve and refurbish them.