In Hong Kong, urban redevelopment evokes the images of haphazard, insensitive and profit-oriented business ventures. With meagre compensation, residents in run-down buildings are often pushed out of districts they have called home for years to settle in far-flung places with which they have no connection. The approach has no doubt cleared up more space for glossy office towers, luxurious housing and shopping malls. But it sadly bulldozed away district character and community kinship at the same time.
Thankfully, the process is now being handled with greater sensitivity. Following a flat-for-flat compensation approach in a Ma Tau Wai project last month, the Urban Renewal Authority announced three projects under the first 'demand-led' redevelopment scheme, in Sham Shui Po and Tai Kok Tsui. Unlike the previous schemes, which were handpicked by the authority, the projects are initiated by property owners. The break-away is a welcome change. The HK$1.5 billion venture will provide 290 new flats.
There were 25 applications, which shows there is much demand, but only three have been approved. However, many old buildings are unattractive to private developers because of limited profitability. They could be left to decay and become threats to the safety of residents and pedestrians. The authority therefore deserves credit for filling the gap.
The other 22 applications failed because they could not meet all the requirements. Understandably, the authority needs to be cautious, especially when it is expected to lose money on the projects. That is why a set of criteria has been adopted, such as the requirement of consent from two-third of owners to get a project started. A building's condition and location are also taken into account. The criteria appear sensible and necessary to help screen out unworthy redevelopment, but they must not be too stringent. Some residents complain that the two-thirds-consent condition is an obstacle. Applications in the next phase will begin in June. The authority should review the experience and consider expanding the scheme in light of the demand