Rooms with a view or rooms without noise?
That was the choice faced by the developers of a luxury estate overlooking Tolo Harbour.
Government officials say noise barriers will be erected again years after they removed them from the nearby highway because people complained they were ugly.
However, the Environmental Protection Department will not say when the barriers will be replaced. In the meantime, developers have opted for no noise, forcing a redesign by renowned British architect Norman Foster, putting kitchens and bathrooms on the side facing the hills while living rooms and bedrooms face the sea - and the estate's own noise barriers.
'When we started this project, we thought buyers would be able to have both sea views and mountain views. But we cannot do it any more because we have to mitigate the noise from the highway ourselves,' said a business executive familiar with The Providence Bay, a joint venture by Nan Fung Development, Sino Land and K Wah International Holdings.
The government erected the blue-and-green barriers along the Tolo Highway between Tai Po and Sha Tin under a HK$140 million noise-reduction programme begun in 1999. But it pulled them down in 2003 after people living in Tai Po Kau complained they were ugly and blocked their harbour views, while drivers said they were a distraction.
What was then the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau said the barriers could be reinstalled when there was more development in the area but there has been no word when this will be. 'We asked the government when it would reinstall the noise barriers but it did not give us an answer. We can't wait forever,' the executive said.
The government sold the Providence Bay site near the Hong Kong Science Park to the developers in 2007 for HK$10.16 billion through public auction. The medium-density estate is expected to sell for about HK$15,000 a square foot.
Legislative Council transport panel chairman Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said he was not aware of any plan to reinstall the demolished barriers in the near future.
In a report in November 2003, the Audit Commission said the removal cost taxpayers HK$42 million.
Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the failure to reinstall the noise barriers was administrative malpractice.
'Installing noise barriers is the government's duty. The fact that the public dislikes 'property hegemony' doesn't mean the government can evade its duty to give the people a quiet living environment. The noise is caused by a highway, which is a public hazard, so the problem should not be resolved by the developers.
'This is also unfair to the developers, because it will have an impact on selling price,' Ma said.