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Hong Kong courts

Plan to build vocational institute at Hong Kong’s Cha Kwo Ling harbourfront faces legal challenge

Judicial review by concern group member Tam Ka-tsun argues that proposal ‘disregarded need to protect and preserve’ site for the public

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 9:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 10:53am

A member of a harbourfront concern group has taken the Hong Kong government to court, challenging its plan to build a vocational institute at what would otherwise have been a leisurely promenade open to the public.

The judicial challenge centres on the Cha Kwo Ling harbourfront area near Lam Tin, where the authorities intend to erect a 4.2-hectare state-of-the-art campus for the Vocational Training Council, according to a 2016 rezoning plan.

In his court action filed on Tuesday, Tam Ka-tsun, a member of the Protect Cha Kwo Ling Harbourfront Concern Group, argued that the plan had “disregarded the need to protect and preserve the harbourfront and its amenity for the public”. Tam lives in nearby Laguna City, a middle-class neighbourhood.

The project, which will see the original 5.2-hectare public area downsized to 4.2 hectares, was announced by Hong Kong’s former leader Leung Chun-ying in his swan song policy address in 2016, despite objections from local residents.

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The Town Planning Board conducted a consultation in 2017 and finalised the draft proposal, which included the campus, on May 8 this year. It was tendered on May 25 to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for approval.

Tam is asking the High Court to quash the decisions made by the board and chief executive on the grounds that they had failed to make the necessary inquiries and had failed to reach their conclusions based on policy and duty, while committing certain errors along the way.

He is asking the court to send the decision back to the two bodies for reconsideration, according to the writ.

Before the announcement in 2016, the original zoning plan was for a soccer pitch, some government offices and a vacant area.

The rezoning plan made it possible for buildings meant for educational purposes to be built to up to 70 metres tall – namely the two blocks for the VTC campus, which are expected to be between 11 and 14 storeys – the writ said.

This is expected to reduce the size of the original open area by one hectare, though the plan for a soccer pitch remains, along with that for a 660-metre waterfront promenade.

During the consultation in 2017, the Town Planning Board received a total of 12,158 representations and 1,428 comments, including those from Tam’s concern group, the writ said.

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Tam said his group had advised the board that the correct way to approach the policy was for the site to be “reserved” for cultural, tourism-related, recreational and retail activities, which did not include the VTC campus.

He added that vibrancy, diversity and public enjoyment should be promoted, with a height gradation being required for harbourfront buildings.

Tam argued that the board had neither approached them to make inquiries after their suggestions nor discussed those matters during deliberations. The chief executive in turn had made the wrong decision because the proposal tabled to her for approval was marked with errors, he said.