street rescued by politics
EDT1 | EDT | headline | By Olga Wong and Gary Cheung
South China Morning Post
New preservation plan for
Wing Lee Street ahead of key Legco vote on redevelopments
Authorities yesterday bowed
to pressure from the public and conservationists and proposed saving
Wing Lee Street from demolition, a day before the Legislative Council
votes on a controversial redevelopment bill.
The sudden announcement of
an alternative preservation plan for the street - which has gained huge
attention since a film set there won an award in Berlin last month -
was widely seen as a political decision.
An analyst said it was also
a gesture to show the government was willing to make concessions on
relatively unimportant projects after a number of controversies over
heritage and development.
The Urban Renewal Authority and Secretary for Development Carrie Lam
Cheng Yuet-ngor announced that under an alternative plan proposed to
the Town Planning Board, all 12 tenement buildings in the street, in
Sheung Wan, would be preserved. Originally only three would have been
saved. The URA had insisted it would stick to the original plan.
The reprieve came a day before lawmakers will be asked to support an
amended development bill. This would allow developers who gain 80 per
cent ownership of a building over 50 years old to obtain the rest through
an auction held by the Lands Tribunal. The amendment is controversial
for Lam because the government has been accused of favouring developers
by lowering the threshold for compulsory sales for redevelopment.
Ma Ngok, a political scientist
at Chinese University, said the URA's decision was linked to efforts
to ease opposition to the amended bill.
"The government wants
to tell the public that it treasures heritage preservation by deciding
to preserve the tenements in Wing Lee Street. The public interest generated
by Echoes of the Rainbow also reinforced the government's determination
to make a U-turn," he said. "It's obviously a public relations
But the authority's chairman,
Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, said the URA had been advocating a conservation
approach since 2008. He did not comment when asked if the plan was the
result of a political decision, but said: "I was not under pressure."
Lam denied she had intervened in the authority's decision. "We
have been working very closely and we both work for the best interests
of the community," she said. "It is not a reversal. The authority
just proposed another way of doing it."
Ma said the decision to preserve
the tenements indicated senior officials were willing to make concessions
on projects they felt were not vital to the city. The government faced
determined opposition, especially by young protesters, when it decided
to demolish the Star Ferry terminal in Central and, more recently, pressed
ahead with a HK$66.9 billion high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.
A plan to demolish the Star
Ferry bus terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui for a piazza could become a new
focus of protests by the same group of young protesters, who see themselves
as being shut out of public life. A top official hinted the government
would not insist on demolishing the terminus if there was strong public
Activists who formed the
Our Bus Terminal Group say the terminus, which dates from the 1920s,
is part of the city's collective memory and have sought United Nations
heritage status for it.