Changes to projects must be in the open
The Urban Renewal Authority has belatedly apologised for failing to keep the public informed of a revised proposal for a showpiece of its Kwun Tong redevelopment project. While adjustments are perhaps inevitable, they must be carried out in a transparent and accountable way
Even the most well-thought out development concepts cannot rule out the need for changes. Hong Kong has no shortage of examples in which key projects were considerably revised during the course of implementation. What is important, though, is that the changes are well justified and that the public is kept fully informed. Regrettably, this is not always the case.
The Urban Renewal Authority has belatedly apologised for failing to keep the public informed of a revised proposal that may kill an oval-shaped office-cum-retail structure, a showpiece of its Kwun Tong redevelopment project. The change was reportedly made in June, but was revealed only weeks ago by a non-executive director of the authority, who complained she had also been kept in the dark.
The change was to avoid delays, said the authority, referring to legal disputes involved in some existing structures. Officials were said to be so focused on their work that they failed to explain the possible changes to the public. But the lack of information makes it difficult for people to judge whether the change is justified. It also makes a mockery of the open consultation on the project a decade ago. The authority later said the revised plan was not final, adding that it would strive to preserve the essence of the development concept, including the structure in question, if possible.
This is not the first time the authority has come under fire for failing to deliver as promised. Just days before the Kwun Tong redevelopment project row came to light, it was found that key design features in another much-touted Mong Kok project – the Sneaker Street revamp – had also disappeared. It is a shame that the proposed spacious public space has been reduced to a podium, and the hall of fame for sportspeople is to be replaced by a shop space for such a purpose. The public was not aware of the alterations until recently.
This is arguably not different from the misleading sales tactics adopted by some private developers in the past. It borders on deception when features showcased in fancy brochures are just artist impressions that will not materialise. It is good to hear that the authority has learned the lesson, though it denied having any intention to deceive the public.
The Kwun Tong project is the authority’s biggest single project, affecting some 1,600 property interests and thousands of people. The involvement of complex land use, design concepts and vested interests make implementation a challenge. While adjustments are perhaps inevitable for a project of such scale, they must be carried out in a transparent and accountable way. The last thing the public wants is to be kept in the dark and feeling cheated.