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Government accused of jumping gun on site sale

South China Morning Post, 18 July 2011

Activists say preparations to sell wing of HQ have started before its future is discussed by planners

Green activists and a conservation group accused the government of treating the Town Planning Board as a rubber stamp and said it had started making preparation to sell the west wing of the Central Government Offices, even though the board was still considering the site’s future.

Campaigners to preserve the government headquarters building said the move showed “sheer disregard for the town planning process and public efforts to preserve the integrity of the historic Government Hill”.

But the Development Bureau said the move was “no more than a preliminary preparation.”

It is not clear if the government had also made preparations to sell other sites before the Town Planning Board made its final decision.

But a former board vice-chairman, Dr Greg Wong Chak-yan, said he had not heard of such a practice before.

The board meets next month to hear a proposal by activists to keeping the Government Hill site intact. It will look at a government plan to demolish the west wing in October.

Town Planning Board member Laurence Li Lu-jen last night refused to comment, saying he wanted to hear both sides of the argument first.

Environmental activist Melanie Moore said she wrote to the authorities asking for trees on the site to be retained. She received a written reply from the government on June 27, in which it said: “As the proposed land sale conditions for the site are still being drafted, we are not in a position to advise on any further details of the conditions.”

Moore believed that indicated that the government had already started to prepare for the sale of the land. She expressed disappointment over the move.

“The government has not released the full result of the November 2010 public consultation,” she said. “After the 1881 Heritage fiasco, the public is tired of government’s pre-ordained deals with property developers to destroy our heritage sites and greenery,” she added, referring to the former Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui, which became a complex of high-end shops and restaurants under a deal with developer Cheung Kong (SEHK: 0001).

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of lobby group The Professional Commons and a member of the Government Hill Concern Group that is fighting to keep the site intact, accused the government of jumping the gun and treating the Town Planning Board as a rubber stamp.

The group also demanded that the board meeting be chaired by someone who was not a development or planning official, saying it was a potential conflict of interest.

The chairman of the Town Planning Board is permanent secretary for development Thomas Chow Tat-ming, whose bureau is pushing forward the redevelopment plan.

But Greg Wong said he disagreed with Lai. “The board can’t control what the civil servants do. By the same token, what the government is doing internally has no impact on the board members’ decision.”

He said if the case for preserving the west wing was strong, he would support it.

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