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Planners Lose Appeal On ‘Toothpick Tower’ Limits

Yvonne Tsui and Olga Wong – Updated on Feb 28, 2009 – SCMP

Town planners are being too picky about Swire’s “toothpick tower” plan for Mid-Levels, a court said yesterday.

They had no right to consider the visual impact and effect on traffic of the development, a three-judge panel ruled.

The Court of Appeal judges upheld a lower court ruling that the Town Planning Board had been wrong to insist on a 12-storey height limit on part of the site of the 50-storey block of flats in Seymour Road, which critics have dubbed a “toothpick tower”.

A spokeswoman for Swire said it would start work on the tower as soon as possible.

People living near the site of the proposed tower said the court had ridden roughshod over their concerns.

“I am very unhappy about the ruling,” said Elina Li, of Goldwin Heights in Seymour Road.

“The traffic is too heavy here and there are too many construction sites in the area. These cause pollution,” she said.

Jason Yee, of Robinson Place, Robinson Road, said the ruling constituted a “mammoth relaxation” of planning rules.

“Thousands of people are against such a toothpick structure that will ill serve an area already plagued by traffic congestion, poor ventilation, restricted sunlight and a host of health concerns,” he said.

The rights and wishes of the community had not been respected, he said.

Yesterday’s judgment by Mr Justice Frank Stock, Mr Justice Michael Hartmann and Madam Justice Carlye Chu Fun-ling stemmed from an appeal launched by the board in December against a 2007 Court of First Instance ruling in favour of Swire.

The board had based its decision on explanatory notes attached to the outline zoning plan containing the 12-storey height limit for land adjacent to Castle Steps – a steep, stepped street.

But in his ruling, in November 2007, Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, of the Court of First Instance, said the explanatory notes were concerned only with the site’s accessibility and there was little to indicate that traffic issues were behind the board’s decision to limit development on the site.

He ruled that the development’s effect on traffic and its visual impact were irrelevant to the board’s consideration of Swire’s application and ordered it to relax the 12-storey height limit.

Swire had sought to build a 54-storey tower, but has only received approval for one 50 storeys tall.

A Swire spokeswoman said it would develop the site according to the planning and building approvals it had received.

A board spokeswoman said it would study the possibility of a further appeal against the Court of First Instance ruling.

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