Hong Kong lawmakers turn spotlight on developers over failure to provide centre for autistic people
Parents protest as developer says it is the government’s responsibility to build the necessary facilities
Hong Kong lawmakers have urged developers to “fulfil their social responsibilities” after they turned down a government proposal to build a support centre for the autistic within a redevelopment project in Cheung Sha Wan.
This came after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor gave a pilot scheme to support young people with autism official standing in her Policy Address last year. The project aims to improve social and work prospects for more than 10,000 autistic people in Hong Kong.
The 23,7000 square metres site is located on Lai Hong Street, which hosts two warehouses owned by Kerry Properties and China Resources Land, as well as land owned by Sun Hung Kai Properties.
In June 2017, developers filed a planning application to the Town Planning Board to propose “comprehensive” redevelopment of the site for residential and commercial purposes.
The application read that school and social welfare facilities are also planned.
According to documents displayed by the Town Planning Board, the Social Welfare Department suggested developers build a “support centre for people with autism” within the site.
Developers, however, said the government should “take the lead” and build it on government land instead.
“As such, a facility is only a pilot scheme initiated under the Policy Address 2017, and no further details could be provided at this stage,” developers wrote.
On Sunday, family members of autistic people were led by Democratic Party district councillor Ramon Yuen Hoi-man in a protest outside Sun Hung Kai Centre in Wan Chai.
Yuen said the centre, proposed by the Social Welfare Department, may help some 1,000 residents with autism.
“If developers stand firm in not adding the centre, [the Social Welfare Department] should try multiple channels, including the Town Planning Board, to voice its objection,” Yuen said.
He urged the developers to amend their application before May 4, when the Town Planning Board is set to scrutinise the updated application.
A parent, who would only give her surname of Lam, said she was disappointed with the developer’s refusal to build the centre.
Lam said her 36-year-old autistic son loves hiking, but struggles to find hiking groups.
“My legs are degenerating, but I have to hike with him, because he has no friends … I do what I can,” she said.
The Tsueng Wan resident said professional staff from a support centre could help autistic people form groups and socialise, thus achieving a better quality of life.
“Just following your mother around is not a ‘quality life’,” Lam said, adding that her son works at a help centre for the disabled, and does not have a social life.
They were joined by social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, Democratic Party’s Roy Kwong Chun-yu and Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung.
Shiu and Kwong are the chairman and deputy chairman of Legco’s Panel on Welfare Services, while Cheung is a member.
Shiu said social welfare facilities often have a hard time securing land resources.
In 2016, a special needs school faced district resistance after the Education Bureau decided to relocate it to Tuen Mun.
“This is a worldwide phenomenon – ‘not in my backyard’,” Shiu said.
If the Town Planning Board accepts the planning application without a support centre, Shiu said he will take the matter to Legco’s welfare services panel.
Sun Hung Kai Properties said on Sunday that the site was at a “very early planning stage”, and that it was only in charge of “a small portion” of the site in Cheung Sha Wan.
“We will listen carefully and consider the voices and opinions from the society,” it said on Sunday.
The property giant also said it was “limited” by the parcel of land and surrounding environment, but it will communicate with the Social Welfare Department to achieve a “holistic” planning proposal.
Kerry Properties and China Resources Land could not be reached for comment.