The Town Planning Board has called for officials to communicate better on land rezoning after a U-turn which means a former campus in Kowloon Tong will be kept for education instead of being sold for flats.
The government had persisted with an application to rezone the site of the former Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education for residential purposes despite the site being withdrawn from the land sales list and the Education Bureau saying it wanted the land for a special-needs school.
The neighbouring Baptist University had also spoken out against rezoning the site, which it wants for a Chinese-medicine teaching hospital. And the board had received more than 28,000 objections to the flats plan.
When the application came before the board again yesterday for a final decision, it was amended to retain the existing government, institution and community (GIC) use, which includes education.
"The board's decision was made after considering public views as well as the new request from the Education Bureau," a spokesman for the board said in reply to queries about the U-turn following its decision last year that the site was suitable for flats.
"Rather, the government should ensure all relevant bureaus are consulted before presenting to the board its land rezoning proposal."
Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po said last month that the government would give up plans to rezone the site as residential. However, the rezoning application was not withdrawn and the government said it would leave the decision to the Town Planning Board.
The board, which had already carried out a public consultation on the application to rezone the site for housing, will now launch a three-week consultation on yesterday's decision.
Board vice-chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai conceded that members had agreed last year that the proposal to switch the site to residential use was suitable to be put through to the public consultation stage. He said it had satisfied the criteria, including the fact that it was lying idle and no department needed it. "But now the Education Bureau has said the site is suitable for building a school," he added. "We did give more consideration to such a demand and eventually agreed it should revert to GIC use."
Even if it was a political decision, he said, it was "not necessarily a bad thing" if it was made in response to public views.
Official endorsement of the decision, which was made after a six-day closed-door hearing, will be sought from the Executive Council after the additional consultation period.
The board spokesman said it had no right to decide who should be the user of the site. "That should be a decision taken by the government," he said.
Baptist University vice-chancellor Professor Albert Chan Sun-chi, who has threatened to resign if the site was not granted to the university, welcomed the board's decision. He said the university hoped to start discussions as soon as possible with the Education Bureau on its proposal for a teaching hospital, a hostel with room for 1,700 students and a general education centre.
However, the bureau said in a statement last night that it would study in detail the feasibility of developing the site for a school for special-needs students.
It said land already granted to the university to the north of the disused campus was enough for its education and student accommodation needs.