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Development Rethink To Let Fresh Air Into City

SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

Improving quality of life is one of the keys to Hong Kong’s continued success. The government well knows that changing property developers’ ways is central to achieving this aim. The so-called wall effect and canyons created by cheek-by-jowl buildings are synonymous with our city, but also make our environment uncomfortable. It is therefore good that authorities are considering significant changes to the present system.

Land being a premium has naturally meant that developers have done their utmost to maximise its potential. Scarcity means high values which translate into economic considerations being foremost when sites are planned. As a result, buildings with little or no space between them line the waterfront and hillsides. The views are spectacular, but for those at street level, the lack of air circulation and sunlight can be stifling, especially in the humid months of summer and when pollution is high.

As we report today, a public consultation could start as early as next month to look at a vastly different development approach. Among proposals are that only 70 per cent of the length of a site can be used, ensuring better air flow between buildings, and that 30 per cent of the total area be set aside for greenery. Such a model seems on its face to be a much-needed breath of fresh air for our city, but it needs to be carefully considered. A balance has to be found to ensure that developers are not overly jeopardised; height restrictions of buildings may have to be relaxed to compensate for area densities being lessened.

There is significant reason for a rethink. Developers who presently voluntarily add green features like podium gardens to buildings are given incentives such as extra floor area. This has not always been conducive to improving the environment. There are cases of the system having been abused, to the detriment of the community.

The government is to be commended for taking environmental concerns firmly on board and pushing ahead with finding a better system. If Hong Kong is to flourish and thrive, we have to improve living standards. But developers have to be listened to and rules made flexible. With care and forethought, the mistakes of the past can be avoided.

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