The decades-old Mid-Levels moratorium was originally put in place to ease traffic and preserve tranquillity in what was once an area with a low population. Though well intentioned, the measure has clearly not worked. Massive residential blocks have been erected over the years, roads are frequently congested and the place has become overcrowded. Now the government proposes scrapping the moratorium after the MTR's West Island Line opens in 2014. Critics say this will only worsen conditions in the area. The reality is that the measure is outdated and has been ineffective. If the aim is to ensure the already overdeveloped area does not become even more cramped and congested, people need to look for other ways forward. The government has been a tacit enabler of development by expanding road improvements and transport services in Mid-Levels. This has made travelling tolerable, if not entirely satisfactory. As a result, developers have been able to get around the moratorium's restrictions on traffic flows. A few years ago, the Ombudsman attributed the moratorium's failure to restrict development in the area to bureaucratic incompetence. A more accurate picture is that Mid-Levels has been a pot of gold for developers, investors and many flat owners. Too many vested interests are involved for the government to easily restrict development in the area. Officials have tried to rationalise the idea of scrapping the moratorium by saying it would have minimal impact. They estimate that morning peak-hour traffic will grow by 11 per cent by 2021 with the projected home construction, and by 11.74 per cent if the moratorium is lifted. The assumption is that the number of flats in the area will grow by only 2,080 - or 7 per cent - during the next decade. With at least 161 sites with redevelopment potential, the estimate is unrealistically low. But still, traffic may be eased by two more escalators which are planned, road expansion, the building of more flyovers and the opening of the new MTR line. In any case there has been a tendency to exaggerate the power of the moratorium. Out of 420 plots of land in Mid-Levels, only 47 fall under its scope. It covers a large area but too few sites. The most direct method of controlling overcrowding is to limit the height of new buildings and this has already been imposed in the area. But anticipating the height restriction, major developers and their associates have for years submitted building plans on sites with redevelopment potential. Once a plan has been accepted, the site becomes exempt from the new restriction. What is remarkable is that a developer does not need to actually own the site or most of its existing flats to successfully submit such a plan for approval. Many valuable sites in Mid-Levels have already had such plans approved; their sole purpose is to beat any height limit. In the end the issue boils down to balancing property rights and the interest of the community. Urban planners and officials need to respect such rights. Many long-time Mid-Levels flat owners may object to the overcrowding, but they are surely not against the rise in the value of their homes. Some have legitimately objected to the height restriction imposed, arguing it has put an unjustifiable limit on the value of their property. But the value of the area as a prime property location depends on its continuing to be perceived as a desirable and pleasant place to live. It is in the interest of developers - and more importantly the community - not to make the area a byword for overcrowding and overvalued property.