Following is a question by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung Mei-fun and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 12):
The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) announced in November 2008 that a "conservation-led" redevelopment approach would be adopted for the Staunton Street/Wing Lee Street project. After the film "Echoes of the Rainbow" with scenes shot at Wing Lee Street won an award in Berlinale in late February this year, quite a number of people proposed to conserve the whole Wing Lee Street, but the Chairman of URA indicated that it was not necessary to revise the redevelopment proposal. Yet, on March 16, 2010, he suddenly put forward a new proposal to revise the number of tenement buildings to be conserved from three to all 12 of such buildings, on grounds that URA had received views from quite a number of members of the public in this regard. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that before deciding to revise the redevelopment proposal of Wing Lee Street, URA had not convened a Board meeting to discuss the matter and had only sent letters to the directors requesting them to authorise the management to deal with the matter, whether it knows if URA had adopted this arrangement due to special circumstances and if there was any precedent, and whether URA had consulted experts in conservation and history before announcing such a decision; whether it had consulted or informed the Development Bureau (DEVB); if it had consulted DEVB, of DEVB's views; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) given that the original redevelopment proposal had been proposed for more than one year since its announcement, and URA has already acquired half of the property interests on Wing Lee Street, whether it knows the reasons for URA putting forward the new proposal; during the decision-making process for the new proposal, whether URA was under any pressure from government department(s) or community organisation(s); whether the winning of an international award by the film "Echoes of the Rainbow" was crucial to the decision of URA; and
(c) given that some elderly property owners in the tenement buildings on Wing Lee Street are worried that under the new proposal, not only are they unable to sell their properties, but they also have to bear substantial costs for repair and maintenance, whether it knows if URA had considered the rights and interests of these property owners before putting forward the new proposal?
The Staunton Street/Wing Lee Street redevelopment project (H19) is one of the 25 redevelopment projects announced but yet to be commenced by the former Land Development Corporation which the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has taken over upon its establishment in 2001. The project area comprises three sites, namely Sites A, B and C. Apart from the conservation of the tenement buildings at Nos.88-90 of Staunton Street at Site B and the restoration of the stone steps at Shing Wong Street, the original proposal was basically a redevelopment-led project. During the planning process of the project, there were evident changes in the public aspirations for heritage conservation. In October 2007, the HKSAR Government announced a new policy statement on heritage conservation and a range of initiatives on conservation, including the revitalisation of the Central Police Station Compound and the Police Married Quarters site at Hollywood Road in the vicinity of the H19. The developments in recent years have directly affected the URA's consideration of the development plan for H19, in particular, Wing Lee Street at Site A. The URA had carried out a heritage assessment for the project and the consultants pointed out that preserving the existing street pattern around Wing Lee Street and Shing Wong Street would be the best way to remember the history of urban development of that community.
In view of the above-mentioned development, the URA, with the support of the Development Bureau (DEVB), announced the substantial revision of the proposal for Wing Lee Street in November 2008. Under the new proposal, a "conservation-led" approach would be adopted to implement the project covering Wing Lee Street. The original proposal of building a high-rise building on the site would be abandoned. The Bridges Street Market and the three buildings at Nos.10-12 Wing Lee Street would be conserved. Nos. 1-9 Wing Lee Street would be demolished and a row of buildings modelled on the typology, height and scale of the existing tenement buildings would be re-constructed in-situ to preserve the existing "terrace" ambience. With the revision, the plot ratio of H19 would be substantially reduced from eight to not more than 4.5, which was widely agreed and supported by the public at that time.
I have set out the background of the Wing Lee Street project in detail, because these developments are relevant to the question raised by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung Mei-fun. My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) The URA's decision on the Wing Lee Street project in March this year was to provide an alternative way of implementation to achieve the "conservation-led" approach it put forward in November 2008, that is, one could either conserve the three old buildings at Wing Lee Street and replicate the others on the same model or conserve and rehabilitate the entire row of 12 old buildings. Basically, there is no departure from the "conservation" objective.
It is believed that the URA has put forth an alternative way of conservation after taking into account the public views (particularly those from the conservation groups and some property owners of Wing Lee Street) collected during the public consultation of the Master Layout Plan (MLP) which was prepared on the basis of the amendment proposal in 2008. According to schedule, the Town Planning Board (TPB) would discuss the MLP and the public comments received at the meeting on March 19. It is understandable that the URA decided to put forward an alternative way before the TPB meeting so as to facilitate the TPB's discussion. Given the pressing schedule, the management of the URA, with the consent of the URA Chairman and in line with the established procedures, sought and obtained the URA Board's authorisation to deal with the matter by circulation of paper.
The URA Board holds regular meetings once every six weeks on average. Under its Standing Orders, the URA may, if necessary, seek advice or approval from the Board on urgent matters by circulation of papers in between meetings. Since January 1, 2010, six papers, including the one on authorising the management of the URA to deal with the proposal on the conservation of Wing Lee Street, have been circulated to the Board for approval.
As mentioned above, during the planning process of the project, the URA appointed consultants to carry out a heritage assessment. The latest proposal, just like the one in November 2008, has the "conservation-led" approach as one of the main considerations in project planning.
After formulating its latest proposal, the URA notified the DEVB before its publication. In principle, the DEVB supports the URA in proposing an alternative way to carry out the conservation of Wing Lee Street. The URA has therefore submitted both the new and the original proposals to the TPB for consideration.
(b) As mentioned above, the URA has adopted a "conservation-led" approach as the basis of the revised proposal for Wing Lee Street since November 2008. There are different ways to carry out conservation in order to maintain the unique "terrace" ambience of Wing Lee Street. It can be the earlier proposal where the old fuses with the new or it can be the current additional proposal of "complete conservation". The latest proposal of the URA has been made in response to some of the demands in the community for a "complete conservation" of Wing Lee Street and some property owners' aspiration for direct participation in conservation.
As stated clearly by the URA Chairman at the press interview on March 16, the URA was not under any pressure from government departments or organisations when formulating the latest alternative implementation proposal. We are glad that a Hong Kong produced film has won an international award. But as mentioned above, the important decision in conserving Wing Lee Street was made in November 2008 and it was a positive response from the URA to the new policy direction as well as to the public aspirations for heritage conservation.
(c) As Wing Lee Street is still currently part of a redevelopment project already commenced by the URA, the URA has committed to continuing negotiating for property acquisition with the owners at Wing Lee Street according to its established acquisition policy and practice before the TPB agrees to excise Wing Lee Street (i.e. Site A) from the redevelopment area. The URA will also assist the tenants concerned by rehousing them in public housing or offering them cash compensation according to established compensation and rehousing policies. As it takes time to complete the standing procedures of the TPB, the property owners (owner-occupiers or otherwise) of the tenement buildings in Wing Lee Street still have time to sell their properties to the URA if they choose to do so and the affected tenants will still be rehoused or compensated.
Ends/Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:33