Board confirms zoning blueprint giving West Kowloon developer a free hand The Town Planning Board last night gave up its control over key planning stages of the West Kowloon cultural hub. The board yesterday rejected all 11 objections filed against the Planning Department's unusually flexible zoning proposal for the 40-hectare site. After hearing the objections, the board upheld the government's view that most aspects of the proposed $24 billion cultural district, including hotels, residential blocks and commercial complexes, did not need its approval. It maintained the site should be zoned under 'other specified uses' under the Town Planning Ordinance. This means the developer will be allowed a virtual free hand in designing the development without being restricted by pre-set planning rules. Yesterday's announcement follows controversy over the government's decision to grant the project to a single developer. Most of the objectors raised doubts about whether there were enough planning controls over the project. Five of the objectors were developers while the rest were individuals or concern groups. Under the Draft Southwest Kowloon Outline Zoning Plan, no planning control on such things as density, height, plot-ratio and total gross floor space allowed on the site will be stipulated at the moment. The Town Planning Board controls will be added to the plan only after the government and its chosen developer reach an agreement on the project. Critics warn that such a move would effectively make any controls fit the plan. The public will be given an opportunity to object to the agreed plan as it will go through the normal procedures of being gazetted and put up for consultation. Minor amendments will be allowed after the consultation. And future changes to the controls laid down in the plan will still need approval by the board. A board spokeswoman said the zoning plan would allow flexibility for developers to draw up their best development plans for the site. 'The plan is not tailor-made for the developers. But it does offer them greater flexibility in designing the best plans for the project,' she said. The government is now inviting submissions of interest from developers. At least 10 companies, including Cheung Kong and Sun Hung Kai, have made submissions. The spokeswoman said all developers were still bound to follow the government's development guidelines, including ensuring that 55 per cent of the site would be covered by a canopy structure no taller than specified heights. Wong Wah-sang, chairman of Urban Watch, which filed an objection to the plan, said the board had lost control of the development. 'By giving up its power to exercise control, the board has simply become a rubber stamp,' he said. Martin Fung King-heng, a council member of the Institute of Architects, said: 'The zoning effectively means that the chosen developer will have great bargaining power as to what the planning control should be.' Legislator Abraham Razack, who represents the real estate sector, hoped the government would tender the project in a fair manner. 'I hope ... no bidder will receive preferential treatment because of their size and ability,' he said.