Bid to end Repulse Bay face-off
The Civic Party has suggested that a trust fund should be established to help resolve a long-standing deadlock between the Emperor Group and the Lands Department over a land premium due on the development of a shopping mall on the Repulse Bay beachfront.
Its deputy chairman, Albert Lai Kwong-tak, believes such an arrangement will help end the dispute and bring badly needed shopping and dining facilities to residents and tourists in the area as early as the end of the year.
The dispute between the two parties is over the land premium on the development known as The Pulse, built on the site of the Lido Shopping Centre.
Construction of the multifunction beachfront leisure and recreation complex with a gross floor area of 143,000 sq ft was close to finished this year and developer Emperor International Holdings planned to commence leasing by the end of the year. But it is still at loggerheads with the Lands Department over the land premium due to be paid and the complex looks set to remain unoccupied until the dispute is resolved.
The dispute led to a legal battle in the Court of First Instance, which the developer lost. However, it reserved the right to appeal and is meanwhile negotiating with the government on the size of the land premium.
Under the Civic Party proposal, all revenue from the leasing of the shops would go into a trust account to be administered by a law firm. The developer would then be barred from accessing the trust fund until it settles the premium with the government.
'There is significant public interest involved in this case,' Lai said. The Civic Party had received many complaints from residents about the lack of shopping and dining facilities, he said, and a resolution would open the way for such facilities to be set up by the end of the year.
The veteran engineer-turned-politician blames the government for causing inconvenience to residents and tourists.
At present, he said, there was only one kiosk, one convenience store and one Pizza Hut restaurant on the Repulse Bay beachfront. The Repulse Bay Centre, a nearby colonial-style building, has a restaurant that serves high-end customers. Both the Seaview Building, with more than 70,000 square metres of gross floor area and managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and The Pulse stand vacant on the beachfront.
'Tourists find no other attractions here apart from the white sandy beach, while residents don't have much in the way of food choices. The unsatisfactory arrangement makes Repulse Bay unattractive and once the two vacant buildings are open for business they will make this community more vibrant and attractive.'
Repulse Bay was once among the city's top tourist attractions but dropped out of the top 10 last year, according to the Tourism Commission.
Lai is confident the trust fund arrangement, while unprecedented, would not, if adopted, open the floodgates for developers to proceed with developments despite being in dispute over the land premium payable.
The Civic Party's earlier involvement in a legal dispute between the Environmental Protection Department and Tung Chung residents over the environmental impact assessment for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge prompted heavy criticism of the party, which was accused of being anti-development.
But Lai said its criticism of the proposal was a response to the genuine concerns of residents affected by construction of the bridge.
Donald Cheung Ping-keung of the Emperor Group said the developer was open to any suggestion that would benefit the company, the public, and the government. But he refused to comment on the setting up a trust fund. The Lands Department has rejected the Civic Party's suggestion on the grounds that it is inconsistent with government practice.
A Lands Department spokesman said the developer had proceeded with construction of the shopping mall despite failing to receive the department's approval.
He also said lease revenues would be insignificant compared with the land premium under negotiation.
'The trust fund arrangement cannot be used to protect the interests of tenants,' he said.