We really live in a New World when it comes to Avenue of the Stars plan
The power of large developers in Hong Kong is truly awesome. They may not run the city; that would cost too much and stand in the way of profits. But when they need to, they can easily bend the government to their will.
The latest demonstration of power is an enhancement plan by New World Development for the Avenue of Stars, a major tourist attraction at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.
Without launching a tender, the government simply granted New World the right to carry out extensive works on the 440-metre promenade, which will extend all the way to Hung Hom.
The works mean closing the promenade for up to three years, affecting people and businesses.
The powers-that-be apparently ordered all the relevant departments to submit "no objections" to the Town Planning Board, which was duly arm-twisted last week to approve the plan, with conditions yet to be established.
The Harbourfront Commission, which could have managed the whole project, has been sidelined. Instead, management will be taken over by Sustainable Foundation, a new subsidiary set up by New World.
Of 348 public submissions during a three-week consultation, 328 opposed the project.
The government is willing to go to such lengths to placate New World, even to the extent of opening itself to accusations of collusion.
Here's what looks to have transpired.
New World has a 20-year right to manage the avenue. But visitor flows have been too low. So it comes up with the enhancement plan. In itself, the enhancement could be a win-win for everyone.
Usually this should trigger a public tender. But since the government retains full land ownership, it has an excuse not to launch a tender, which would have upset New World.
After all, the management issue would be tricky if New World retains that right up to 2024 while a different entity wins the tender. New World may well go to court over it.
The plan itself - extending the promenade, adding a food hub, a movie gallery and more performance venues - is not unreasonable.
But it's disingenuous to suggest New World won't benefit from the non-profit arrangement when it is building a huge mall-hotel-office complex nearby.
Clearly, the government prefers to upset the public rather than New World.