'Floating oasis' rooftop garden plan for Hong Kong's Central Market scrapped

Hong Kong’s historic Central Market will not get its "floating oasis" after all

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 September, 2015, 4:32pm

A rooftop garden in the former Central Market - the main feature from the original design chosen after public consultation - has been scrapped in the newest plans, the Urban Renewal Authority announced yesterday.

The original design, known as the Urban Floating Oasis, will no longer have a "floating oasis", as the authority cited structural issues, costs trebling and the time factor for the change.

But the new "simplified design" will not be put to public consultation and the decision also goes against the planning intent set out in the outline zoning plan, which stated that "a minimum of 1,000 square metres of public open space, mainly in the form of a roof garden, should be provided within the site".

"The original design was chosen by the public, yet four years later [the authority] just decides on their own to scrap it. This isn't a decision to be made by the board behind closed doors," said Ivan Ho Man-yiu from the Hong Kong Institute of Architects.

The original design would cost an estimated HK$1.5 billion now, which authority chairman Victor So Hing-woh said was money that could be put to better use elsewhere.

This simplified version will cost HK$600 million - excluding land premium, which the authority hopes can be waived.

While the URA claimed the elevated costs to be a reason for altering the plan, the authority actually recorded a recurrent surplus of HK$1.1 billion in the past fiscal year.

"Can the public really not afford the extra HK$1 billion? The cross-border railway plan is over-budget by HK$10 billion in comparison … for the public's use in a prime urban area, this price is perhaps worth paying," said Ho. "Ultimately, this is a management decision."

URA managing director Daniel Lam Chun admitted that the HK$500 million budget drawn up in 2009 was "a wrong estimation from the outset".

"We didn't have concrete details of the site, nor did we know its structural condition when we made [the estimate]," he said of the project that was originally slated to be completed in 2017.

So compared the plans to a Rolls Royce and a Honda.

"When you ask me whether I like a Honda or a Rolls Royce, I'll prefer [a] Rolls Royce, because I don't have to pay for it. But when you want to have something very practical, you must have a Honda ... I'm not saying the past [consultation] exercise was not properly done ... [but] we have to make a sensible choice [in the end]," he said.

Apart from the garden, the revised project will also lose a basement.

The public space remains at 1,000 square metres, though the amount of commercial space would be reduced, Lam said. The plan will have to pass through the Town Planning Board, and hopefully be ready by 2020.

"The Urban Renewal Authority has walked too many wrong roads and wasted the public's time, money and space," said Central district councillor Ted Hui Chi-fung.

Central Market timeline

1939 Central Market of Bauhaus style built
2003 Market vacated
2009 Former development chief Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, now chief secretary, announces conservation plan of HK$500 million.
2011 Judicial review launched by Turbo Top, a Hutchison Whampoa subsidiary, on whether a retail scheme for Cheung Kong Center in Central affects nearby projects including the Central Market plan.
2013 A concern group launches a judicial review against the floating design, which increases the market’s height.
2014 Court rejects concern group’s judicial review. Buildings Department approves building plan for the project.
April 2015 Urban Renewal Authority says cost has increased to HK$1.5 billion. Land premium negotiation between the authority and Lands Department stalls.
Sep 2015 Authority announces a simplified design that costs HK$600 million.