The Town Planning Board has given the green light to a proposal to erect a 21-storey youth hostel next to a historic Hong Kong temple, despite overwhelming public opposition. Concern is centring upon whether construction of a high-rise building would put 169-year-old Man Mo Temple at risk, while the health of future residents could also be endangered by breathing in smoke from burning incense. Vetting the proposal on Friday, board member Liu Tik-sang asked if there were plans to enhance community engagement once the development was completed. Hong Kong charity seeks to allay fears that youth hostel construction will damage 169-year-old Man Mo temple A representative for Tung Wah Group of Hospitals , which is championing the proposal, replied that a 280-square-metre “heritage bazaar” on the ground floor would be open to the public during the day and that exhibitions would be held to educate the public about the neighbourhood’s history as well as that of the temple. Management of the temple has been entrusted to Tung Wah since 1908. The charity organisation submitted its application in September last year. It seeks to demolish a six-storey primary school left vacant since 2005 and build a 70-metre tower for 302 occupants. Hong Kong can preserve heritage sites without compromising on its housing needs When asked if the current premises could instead be refurbished, the representative said that would mean cutting the number of spaces for beds by two-thirds. A town planning consultancy commissioned by Tung Wah claimed there would be no adverse visual impact on the surrounding area, as the proposed hostel block would be lower than nearby residential developments. But Katty Law Ngar-ling, convenor of the Central and Western Concern Group , strongly disagreed. She said the lack of a low-rise buffer meant the temple would stand in the shadow of the 21-storey hostel. In Hong Kong, private property rights trump heritage conservation A discussion paper suggested the two structures be only 3.1 metres apart when the project was done. Law also accused Tung Wah of misleading town planners by claiming to have carried out geotechnical studies at the site. She urged the public to continue opposing the project at its next stage, when it needs to get approval to amend the area’s outlined zoning plan. Lee Ho-yin, associate professor of architectural conservation at the University of Hong Kong, said he felt “helpless” as there was no legal framework to monitor such projects. VIEW THIS: How Hong Kong’s heritage is conserved Public submissions to the board are of reference value only, he said, and authorities need not take them into account. Out of 220 public submissions concerning the project, 212, or 95 per cent, objected to the plan. The idea to build affordable hostels for working youths aged 18 to 30 was floated by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen during his final policy address in 2011. Non-governmental organisations behind such projects may seek full funding from the government to bear construction costs. Four more hostels are planned for Tai Po, Mong Kok, Jordan and Yuen Long.