Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Falling on Deaf Ears

The recently vacated Central Government offices
The Hong Kong government has no concept of what it means to preserve buildings, or to convert them into other uses.

Instead it would rather pay developers to do that -- and then make a few million dollars on top of that -- at taxpayer expense.

This is what happened in 2003 when the government sold the Hong Kong Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui to Li Ka-shing's Flying Snow Limited, a subsidiary of Cheung Kong Holdings. What happened? The building that was constructed in 1884 was turned into a fancy boutique hotel two years ago that the public cannot enjoy unless they stay in one of the rooms or eats in the restaurants, most of which I've heard are not good.

The icing on the cake is probably the bizarre shopping mall in front of the building now called 1881 Heritage, all featuring high-end brand names that no one can afford.

And now history is about to repeat itself with Government Hill in Central.

It's a prime location and at first the government was going to sell it -- without consulting with Hong Kong residents who technically own the complex -- and turn it into a giant shopping mall.

How many more shopping malls do we need?

After extensive protests and complaints, the government is now thinking of shelving the giant mall, but critics say this isn't enough.

That's because Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says the government will go ahead and demolish the west wing of the Central government offices in ice House Street in Central and put the site up for sale despite public opposition.

And it will still go ahead with a 32-storey grade A office tower with the Securities and Futures Commission and Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing as tenants... even though they haven't decided if they are going to move there. So how can the government count on them to be tenants?

Government Hill Concert Group spokeswoman Katty Law Ngar-ning said Lam had "utterly disregarded" public opinion.

Property consultants felt that the loss of a giant mall would lead to the site being less valuable, one or two billion less, while another consultant estimated the government could rake in HK$8.6 billion.

"This land tender will be very unusual and very exceptional because of its particular circumstances and the need to respond fully to the public comments that we have received," Lam said.

In a public consultation last year, 12 organizations made submissions to either support or show no objection to the development, while 11 opposed it. Law said Lam dismissed the opponents as a minority.

"But our application to the Town Planning Board has received 6,000 submissions and has not yet been discussed," Law said. She said Lam's announcement yesterday was an attempt to create a fait accompli and influence the planning board that there were no more objections to the redevelopment.

Some of those who oppose it hope to keep the government buildings as heritage ones as they are structurally sound and good examples of 1950s architecture.

It's great to see more people keen on preserving what important buildings they have left, but the government refuses to listen. It's not like the administration needs the money -- it has so much in reserves so why this need to sell it? Why not create it into an interesting public space or a co-op kind of structure like a shared community space?

Instead the government would rather hear the sound of money coming in than have its citizens enjoy more preserved green spaces and heritage buildings.

Tell me again -- who is supposed to be serving the people?

1 comment: