Many people are upset that yet again a substantial budget surplus is being squandered on handouts instead of being used to fund programmes that would benefit the community at large.
Those of us concerned about the conservation of our heritage and the constant manoeuvring of the administration to hijack public spaces to gift to property developers were appalled at the announcement in the budget that the west wing of the Central Government Offices is to be demolished and the hill sold for redevelopment.
When the government went to the Legislative Council for funding of its Tamar offices, it made a promise that the future of the Central Government Offices would be subject to extensive public consultation before any decisions were made.
Instead of public consultation, we were presented with a plastic model of an office tower, looking suspiciously like Cheung Kong Centre II, perched on top of a ridiculous faux green molehill and were given a few weeks to make comments on the plan. After protests, the so-called consultation was extended to December 31. More than two months have passed and the results have yet to be made public. In the meantime, a coalition of green groups has made an application to the Town Planning Board to have the entire Central Government Offices site conserved and rezoned as a heritage precinct. Now the government appears to have its own agenda that makes a complete mockery of due process. The financial secretary in his budget speech referred to the sale of the west wing as a done deal. This infers that the board will rubber-stamp the current proposal without listening to the voices of the community and will fail to fulfil the promise made to Legco.
Why such haste? Is there some arrangement with a particular developer that has to be honoured before the current administration steps down?
The net gain between refurbishing the west wing and the proposed commercial tower will be insignificant at some 3,000 square metres. Therefore, the plan to demolish a building that has been well maintained, gouge out an entire hillside, cart thousands of cubic metres of construction waste to our already saturated landfills, destroy the old wall and tranquil green hillside in Ice House Street and subject Central to years of construction noise, air pollution and even worse traffic jams, needs to be carefully evaluated.
As for the heritage aspect, we need only look to the transformation of the former Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui into the 'Disneyesque' 1881 Heritage shopping mall, completely stripped of its dignity, hillside and lovely old trees, to imagine the future of the Central Government Offices site, a sterile concrete environment under the omnipresent control of vigilant security staff.
I urge readers who share these concerns about this site to put forward their views by making comments [on the green groups' application] on the Town Planning Board website (application number Y/H4/6), before the deadline tomorrow.
Mary Melville, Tsim Sha Tsui