Officials didn't disclose two designs for new HQ would need planning permission Two of the four proposed designs for the government's new headquarters at the Tamar site breach zoning plans intended to safeguard waterfront open space, threatening fresh controversy over the HK$5.2 billion project. Should either of the designs, by the Gammon-Hip Hing and Paul Y-Shui On consortiums, be chosen, the approval of the Town Planning Board would be needed. Harbour activists and legislators are asking why the general public were not told of the zoning breach when they were invited to view the designs and state their preference. Under the outline zoning plan for the site in Admiralty, the seaward side is open space and the area further inland designated for government, institutional and community use. The Gammon-Hip Hing design puts part of the Legislative Council building and the chief executive's office on the open space. The Paul Y-Shui On bid places the Legco complex close to the harbour. Both plans, however, maintain the required ratio of 2 hectares of open space to 2.2 hectares of buildings. Plans by the other two consortiums respect the zoning plan. Tamar will house a government complex, a building for the Chief Executive's Office and Executive Council, a new chamber for the Legislative Council and a building for lawmakers and the Legco secretariat. It is intended the contract will be awarded this year and the project completed in 2010. Under the tendering rules, the bidders are not allowed to speak to the press or explain the designs to the public, and officials have not disclosed that two of the designs would require further approval if selected by a board headed by the chief secretary. If either of those designs is chosen, the bidder would have to make the application to the Town Planning Board, and would be given seven months to secure its approval. If it did not meet that deadline, the government could choose a different design. The discovery of the zoning breach prompted lawmakers and harbour activists to call for greater transparency in tendering. 'What will happen if the government picks a design but it is rejected by the Town Planning Board? There is risk and uncertainty here,' said veteran engineer Albert Lai Kwong-tak. 'And how come the public has not been informed of this important fact when they visit the exhibition of these designs? The government is asking them to fill in a comment card and seek their opinion of the designs. Their answer could have been different if they were told of these facts.' Town planner Betty Ho Siu-fong supported allowing the winning bidder to apply for a zoning change. 'This allows the bidders more flexibility and more creative designs,' said Ms Ho, chairwoman of the Conservancy Association. 'But the government should inform the public about this - some people may want to see the headquarters built sooner rather than waiting seven months for approval.' A government spokesman said it was prepared for the possibility that the winning bidder may need to seek planning permission if certain buildings encroached into the open-space zone. 'Tender evaluation is under way. We cannot comment on whether any particular proposal ultimately requires planning permission,' he said. Veteran surveyor Nicholas Brooke said the public might have been misled into thinking that its preferences would have real impact on the choice of design, when in fact the final arbiter could be the Town Planning Board. Independent legislator Kwok Ka-ki said the case demonstrated how the public had been misinformed about the consultation exercise. 'The bidders should be allowed to speak to the public and explain their designs,' he said.