A company associated with Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa mounted a legal challenge yesterday to a rezoning that blocked the firm's plan to convert 78 car park spaces at the Cheung Kong Center in Central into a supermarket.
Turbo Top, registered owner of the land at the junction of Queen's Road Central and Garden Road, argued in the Court of First Instance that the Town Planning Board misused its power in requiring the company to keep 800 public car park spaces under a rezoning plan.
The company, which has Hutchison Whampoa's managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning as a director, wants the court to quash the decision made by the board in January.
Benjamin Yu SC, for Turbo Top, accused the board of 'micromanaging' the development and planning of a 'specific building'. Under the Town Planning Ordinance, he said, the board was only empowered to adopt a 'broad-brush' approach in the planning and development.
Yu said the car park was substantially underused and that the supermarket would serve a public need.
According to documents filed in court, Turbo Top proposed the supermarket plan after studies showed the car park was only 70 per cent occupied at peak periods.
It then applied to government departments to convert 78 of the 800 spaces into a supermarket.
On July 2 last year, the writ says, the Transport Department was satisfied that the remaining spaces would be sufficient. But two weeks later a draft zoning plan, proposed by senior town planner Ernest Fung, was gazetted. The plan listed the terms of Turbo Top's original lease, which included a minimum 800 parking spaces, restrictions on the area that could be used for retailing and a minimum public open space.
Yu said the board wrongly gave itself a right to require his client to provide 800 public car spaces and that the board was engaging in 'retrospection' rather than looking to future development. 'You can't say that previously you have [for example,] 400, so you have to have 400.'
Yu also said that the Transport Department had considered that 78 fewer car parking spaces would still meet traffic needs.
The court heard that the board later told the company it could apply for a relaxation of the number of car parking spaces.
But Yu said this did not properly fix the problem of the duty to provide car parking spaces to start with. 'You can't say I [the board] made a wrong decision and then I ask the developer to apply for a relaxation to put right the wrong decision,' Yu said. 'If they are wrong in imposing a requirement of 800 car parking places, then there was no need to apply for relaxation because ... there should not have been the obligation.'
Yu also said the board had not done a study to show that there was a need for 800 parking places.
The hearing continues today.
Amount, in HK dollars, that Hutchison paid the Lands Department for the Cheung Kong Center site in 1996