Supporting the use of vacant government sites (1)
To encourage the use of vacant government sites by non-government organisations (NGOs), the Development Bureau (DEVB) launched a $1 billion funding scheme in February last year to help successful NGOs pursue basic restoration works on vacant government sites to take forward worthy projects for the community. In this post, I have invited a colleague from the DEVB to brief us on the implementation of the scheme. Besides, a successful NGO-applicant will tell us about their plan to turn vacant school premises into a guide dog training school.
Encouraging worthy projects benefiting the community
Now, NGOs can apply to the Lands Department for short-term use of vacant government sites (including vacant school premises on government land). To enhance incentives to turn more vacant sites to meaningful uses benefiting the community, and for gainful use of these land resources, the Government has launched a $1 billion funding scheme to subsidise the costs of basic renovation works. Such works include slope upgrading, site formation, erection of temporary structures, provision of sewerage/drainage facilities or pedestrian/vehicular access, renovation of existing premises, installation of fire safety equipment or barrier-free facilities.
Funding approved for eight projects
Ms CHEUNG Man-yan, German, Assistant Secretary (Planning) of the DEVB, says that the bureau has received a total of 12 applications as at March this year, and funding of around $72 million for eight projects have been approved, for the entire project or by phases, for the provision of various community facilities, e.g. community garden, animal boarding establishment/ training centre, community service centre and transitional housing etc. Ms German CHEUNG says as some NGO-applicants may not be well versed or experienced in project planning and works management, the DEVB and relevant government professional departments will provide technical advice and support as far as possible to facilitate smooth completion of these projects.
Turning the site into a guide dog training school
Among the successful applicant organisations under the funding scheme is the Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dogs Services, which was established in 2012. Having obtained the lease on the premises of the former Sam Wo Public School on Lin Ma Hang Road in Ta Kwu Ling, the organisation is planning to turn the site into a guide dog training school with ancillary facilities, such as indoor and outdoor training grounds, a veterinary clinic, a kennel, a hydrotherapy swimming pool, a breeding room, an educational resources center, offices and more. The renovated site will become the first well-organised guide dog training school in Hong Kong, specialising in breeding and training guide dogs with the aim of providing well-trained dogs to the visually impaired free of charge.
Renovation to be completed in summer next year
Mr CHEUNG Wai-man, Raymond, Chairman of the Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dogs Services, says he is very happy that they are granted the subsidy from the Government. He further says that being a small charity institution, they face difficulties in raising money for renovation, and the grant is a big encouragement to them. The site investigation has been completed. The renovation works are expected to kickstart within this year and due for completion next summer at the earliest. Mr Raymond CHEUNG says they are currently operating in a small area of about 1 100 square feet. The new site, with an area of about 24 500 square feet, will give them more space for guide dog breeding and training. He believes that after the renovation, more dogs can be trained, the training quality can be enhanced, and therefore more visually impaired people will be benefited.
Benefiting more visually impaired people
Ms PANG Hoi-ting, Brenda, a guide dog trainer, says that guide dogs will be placed in puppy raiser’s homes when they are about seven-week old to get socialised to the people, as well as the social environment and facilities. Reaching the age of 18 months, they will return to the centre to learn how to lead a person, which takes about nine months of training. The center also provides match training to the visually impaired. After moving into the former school premises, the centre will have a larger area for puppy training, as well as medical care, feeding and training grounds for guide dogs, so that better services can be provided to the visually impaired, and these services can put down roots in Hong Kong.
I believe the $1 billion funding scheme can capitalise on community wisdom, and in so doing facilitate tripartite collaboration among Government, NGO-applicants and professional bodies in taking forward worthy projects. Next week, I will introduce to you another worthy project, and how the applicant NGO turns a former village school into an integrated community service centre to serve the locality.
17 May, 2020