The development chief has proposed to ban all vehicles from Lugard Road, the narrow Peak thoroughfare where plans to convert an historic mansion into a boutique hotel have provoked outrage from hikers and environmentalists.
Opponents of the hotel guardedly welcomed the idea put forward by Paul Chan Mo-po, secretary for development, but expressed doubts over whether the hotel would be viable if guests faced a one-kilometre walk to the reception desk.
Concerns were also raised that even with the vehicle restriction, the hotel project could lead to further development of the green area.
“If the hotel sends bellboys to carry all the luggage and have the guests walk for more than 10 minutes to get there so that there are no cars running on the trail, then I have no objection as a citizen,” former commerce minister Frederick Ma Si-hang said.
“It’s not a bad compromise, but will visitors choose that hotel? I don’t think so,” said Ma, a regular hiker on Lugard Road who has signed a petition against the project.
The neoclassical four-storey mansion built in 1916, which holds grade-two historic status, was acquired by developer Crown Empire last year ofr HK$384 million. The hotel plan was approved by the Town Planning Board despite a 96 per cent disapproval rating expressed during the public consultation process.
Under current plans the hotel will use small electric cars and tricycles to carry goods and passengers, running no more than two trips an hour. But traffic concerns remain as the road leading to the house is only about 1.8 metres wide and is popular with hikers.
Central and Western district councillor Joseph Chan Ho-lim said on Monday that the secretary for development raised the no-traffic idea at a meeting with Peak residents attended by him and legislator James Tien Pei-chun last month.
This would require guests to walk from the Peak Galleria – the nearest transport point to the mansion – and then walk uphill on a slope when approaching the site.
“The minister said that just like at the Tai O Heritage Hotel, travellers can walk there carrying their backpacks,” Joseph Chan said. “He promised to take the lead and liaise across departments under his bureau and the Transport and Housing Bureau to work out the solution.”
He said he was still waiting for further details to see whether the proposal would be viable but concerns remained over the environmental impact of a septic tank and jacuzzi planned as part of the project.
A spokeswoman for Paul Chan said he had exchanged views with the district councillor on the “zero traffic” idea but no details could be provided at this stage.
Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong chairwoman Vivian Leung Tai Yuet-kam, who has organised a petition against the hotel plan, said the “zero traffic” proposal would not be feasible for hotel guests. She said she was also worried that the hotel would just be the first step of further development.
“This neighbourhood has always been a residential area,” she said. “Once one hotel is built here they may build a restaurant there and something else there and the green space will become a commercial zone.”