PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 2008, 12:00am

Urban renewal strategy ruining communities

It is widely accepted that the Urban Renewal Authority, through its development projects, has done a lot of damage in Hong Kong, destroying streets which had a unique local character and cohesive community network. Sometimes its policies have led to social unrest.

It demolished 'Wedding Card Street' and is now turning its attention on Graham Street, the most historic street market in Hong Kong and a top tourist attraction.

If it had any sense, the URA would not pull down the majority of the 40 buildings in the area to make way for a podium development with four high-rise towers on top.

It should make conservation of the historic street market a starting point by regenerating the existing buildings. Its officials should understand that having four more skyscrapers on that small site is just too much for residents in Central - too much pollution caused by the wall effect, too much traffic, and too little respect for the needs of the community (there is no other market in Central).

Even more problematic is the fact that once the URA declares an area to be a redevelopment site, property owners have no choice but to sell to this single buyer.

The whole process is an infringement of private property rights. Many owners have not been able to buy back properties in the same area with the URA's compensation.

With such a bad track record, it is clear the role of the URA must be reviewed.

In terms of trying to preserve Hong Kong's urban fabric, its broad-brush approach of clearing sites for comprehensive development areas is doing more harm than good, increasing development intensity in some already congested areas.

The fundamentals of the urban renewal strategy must be overhauled.

I agree that a district-based approach is needed for urban planning and heritage conservation but the lead should be taken by the government, with the community fully engaged, to impose sensible planning restrictions or to declare historic areas conservation zones (for example, parts of Central), which are protected. Property owners should be encouraged to maintain and renovate their old buildings.

The URA has done a good job in the past in helping owners renovate dilapidated buildings and its future role should focus on this aspect of its work.

Katty Law, Central

Consumers can demand change

A survey conducted by Chinese University shows that the significant culprit that leads to people losing the battle against obesity, is eating out in the morning ('Eating breakfast out blamed for growing girths', March 18).

People in Hong Kong are tempted by the tasty dishes prepared by restaurants, which are ultimately bad for their health.

Should the catering sector be blamed for the rising rate of diabetes and heart disease? Some people have suggested that restaurants should provide some healthy menus with less oil and salt and that customers should also be informed about the nutritional content of the menu items. They also suggest smaller portions should be served.

I think we would all appreciate those restaurant managers who are willing to share responsibility for improving health in our community. However, running a restaurant is the same as running any business.

Restaurants operate under market conditions; they are not charities. They are there to offer food to those who can afford to pay for it.

It is up to the consumers with the money in their wallets to tell the restaurant managers what they want and ask for less oil, less fat and less salt.

Do you want tasty food, or healthy food?

It is up to each of us to make our own choices.

Ma Hoi-kwan, Sha Tin

Why no refund for school fees?

I urge the government to explain why it will not refund school fees for the period during which schools and kindergartens are closed (outside of normal school holidays).

Many parents pay significant sums for their children's education and were not given a choice as to whether or not their children's educational establishment should close as a result of the current flu outbreak. Surely if the decision (which admittedly may be correct) was made centrally by the government then it should also see fit to reimburse school fees that have already been paid for lessons their children will not be attending.

Alternatively, the authorities perhaps have plans to schedule additional classes for when the flu outbreak has subsided.

Graeme Duncan, Pok Fu Lam

Democracy not right medicine

Fiona Dentrick seems to suggest that democracy would be the answer to our long-term health-care burden ('Priority is to help the fat cats', March 18). However, I would like to relate the experiences of two relatives.

One, aged 80, had an operation for colon cancer. She was asked to attend hospital in the morning, on the day of the scheduled operation. The doctor ordered her to be discharged three days later even though she could not get out of bed. Her relatives refused this demand. No doctor would see her. Her condition deteriorated and a few days after the operation, she passed away.

Another relative, aged 30, had an operation for a ruptured appendix. Two days after the operation and still with an open wound, he was ordered to be discharged. As he lived alone, he asked to be allowed to stay and was even willing to pay the extra fees rather than making additional insurance claims, but his appeals were turned down. Fortunately, his mother is a trained nurse who put aside her own commitments in Hong Kong to care for him.

These two patients received their medical treatment in the US and they both had medical insurance.

One can imagine the backlash from the press and the politicians if these incidents had happened in Hong Kong.

I agree that our political structure must be made more democratic. However, while it may be a cliche the advice not to take democracy as a panacea is worth repeating, in the light of your correspondent's letter.

Ng Hon-wah, Pok Fu Lam

Lantau takes highway to hell

As a Lamma resident, Alistair Robins ('Ferry cutbacks hurt islanders', March 17) has a point when he says ferry cutbacks will hurt the economy of his island.

However, on Lantau the situation is the opposite. Here, the government is doing what it can to open up the island for private car use by 'improving' the road system and this is the problem.

While the local economy may improve in the short term with hundreds of car drivers moving in, it will start suffering again quickly when people realise they are living on 'Highway Island'.

As it is, First Ferry is seeing losses because people would rather spend an extra half an hour getting to work in their own car than doing the environmentally responsible thing and travelling on public transport.

Economic losses for the ferry company lead to fewer ferries and this reduction leads to even more people driving.

Esso, Caltex and Sinopec must be laughing all the way to the bank, while residents of Lantau, formerly known as the green lung of Hong Kong, are choking.

Cecilie Gamst Berg, Lantau