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designing hong kong

Mega myths - and the hijacking of the planning intention

Myths concerning the Mega-tower site have helped to mask the lack of planning control and gross over-development of the proposals to create a
Mega Tower hotel project, explains Rogger Emmerton, Founding member of Kennedy Road Protection Group.

Brief background of the site

Prior to the creation of the "Comprehensive Redevelopment Area" (
CRA) in the Southorn area of Wan Chai the land use zones comprised Residential (38%) G/IC (8%), Open space (43%) and public streets & paths (11%).  The residential area was made up of many small fragmented lots at Ship Street and Hau Fung Lane and a single residential lot at 15 Kennedy Road. The development potential of these separate sites was extremely limited due to the severe lack of access.

The key lot is the Residential (Group B) site at 15 Kennedy Road, as this is strategically located within the publicly owned open space land and is the only lot that has a road frontage (at Kennedy Road) and a vehicular access. The
CRA was centered around this Kennedy Road land, and without incorporating this Kennedy Road site the CRA could never have even been contemplated.

Following are some widely held myths concerning this Mega-tower site which have helped to mask from general view the lack of planning control and the consequential gross over-development of the planning proposals for this CRA.

Myth 1:
The Mega-tower is a Queen's Road East site

This myth is not surprising as the wording of the June 1985 CRA zone notes states "to the south of Queen's Road East" and it would appear to be common sense that such a major development should require a full frontage onto the major road artery in the area. 

However, in reality there has never been any Queen's Road East frontage, and there has never been any vehicular access at QRE or at narrow and stepped
Ship Street. The historical possibility of this area becoming "comprehensive" was based solely and solidly on the 15 Kennedy Road lot which gives the site its only existing vehicular access from on this narrow and twisting Kennedy Road.

This CRA site is squarely a
Kennedy Road site - and the planning control should have reflected this fact.  It is possible that TPB have been led to believe that the private properties along the QRE frontage would be subject to urban renewal (as this was indicated on the developer's plans) but this has also been a myth.

Myth 2:
The planning intention is for "commercial uses"

A letter to the developer in April 1985 makes clear that the TPB agreed to amend the outline zoning plan to allow the processing of a hotel proposal. The Board honoured this agreement by rezoning the site to "Other Specified Uses" annotated "Comprehensive Redevelopment Area" ["OU(
CRA)] in June 1985 specifically to allow a hotel use, and at that time the relevant Wan Chai OZP makes no mention of "commercial uses" for the CRA.

In planning terms hotel is considered a suitable use in a Residential (Group B) zone as long as the scale is appropriate to the vicinity and any associated commercial components are small scale and solely for servicing the hotel guests.

It is significant that at the time of the introduction of the
CRA the prevailing Wan Chai OZP  issued June 1984 stated in the explanatory notes 4.3.1:  The area immediately to the north of Kennedy road is zoned "Residential (Group B)".  The area is steep and inadequately served by roads.  Therefore commercial uses are not encouraged in this zone. (This zone included 15 Kennedy Road)

It was not until 2001 that the term "commercial uses" was "mysteriously" inserted into the CRA zoning notes - fully 7 years after the 1994 scheme had already "commenced development" (according to the Planning Department and the Development Bureau). If the original planning intention in 1985 had been for "commercial uses" the Board would, at that time, have created a "commercial uses" annotated "comprehensive redevelopment area".

Myth 3: 
Developer holds expectation of a full 15+ "commercial" plot ratio

According to the TPB guidelines for a
CRA the development intensity should take into account the existing land use pattern, the latest development requirements in the surrounding area, and the infrastructural capacity constraints in the vicinity. The facts and circumstances of this Kennedy Road site dictate that the developer should feel extremely lucky to get a plot ratio of 8 on the private lots.

Fundamentally the public "Open space" land has no developer plot ratio entitlement. Therefore the 1994 scheme would appear to propose over-development by a factor of 3.

Myth 4:
The government slopes are un-alienated land

In 1968 this public land was zoned "Open space".  The Lands Department were negligent in not issuing a letter of allocation to the Urban Services Department, who were then the custodian of public parks, sitting-out areas, and other public open spaces. In the early 1980s the TPB required that this "Open space" land should be used for "passive recreation".  Accordingly in the 1985 redevelopment plan this public "Open space" zoned land was relocated westwards for a public park at
Ship Street as part of a straight deal which also relocated the private lots eastwards adjacent to Hopewell Centre for a hotel.

This deal formed the basis of the 1985 re-zoning.  The public had the expectation that this deal would be honoured.  The 1994 scheme has deprived the public of a much needed public park.

Myths propagate over-development

It is clever how these myths have been interrelated to propagate the massive over-development.

Firstly, create the pretence of a Queen's Road East location. Secondly, claim "commercial uses" based on the location. (Note that the Wan Chai OZP did not include the statement - "along Queen's Road East there is a trend towards more intensive commercial development"- until some time after the Mega-tower was approved in January 1994.)  Thirdly, claim a full commercial uses plot ratio of 15+. Fourthly, create the impression that the government slopes are un-alienated land with no possibility of separate development and with no foreseeable public use, and thus of little value.

Who is looking out for the public interest?

The major role of the Town Planning Board (TPB) is to control the use of land, and thus the relative development intensity, within a locality for the general welfare of the community.

The Town Planning Board declares that it seeks to promote the right development in the right place and at the right time. Accordingly the Board comprehensively rejected the 2004 scheme on this site in April 2004 on behalf of the community (after a public outcry), when Carrie Lam was chairman of the Town Planning Board.

Today, the Welcome Message on the website from the now Secretary for Development Carrie Lam states that the Chief Executive advocates a progressive view on development.

It appears surprising therefore that the Administration is now determined to re-activate a 14 year-old obsolete scheme (that elapsed in January 1996), that lacks the popular support of the public, and that bypasses the TPB's present-day resistance and objection to such excessive development.

We understand that there is political expediency from "the top" to build hotels. However, Carrie Lam surely understands that these myths have been exposed, and that in 2008 this 1994 Mega-tower scheme is the wrong development, at the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Roger Emmerton

Founding member of Kennedy Road Protection Group

17 July 2008

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