The URA’s Response

By way of background, the Kwun Tong Town Centre which occupies a site area of about 5.3 hectares with 24 dilapidated buildings, was built in the early 1960s and badly needs actions to address the deteriorating living environment. Local residents suffering from leaking roofs and walls, poor hygiene, clogged sewage and daily traffic chaos have been anxiously urging for early implementation of the project since its announcement by the then Land Development Corporation, the predecessor of the Urban Renewal Authority, in 1998. Their calls are strongly supported by the District Council in Kwun Tong.

It is expected that the project would cost over $30 billion, of which $13 billion has to be secured for compensating the owners and tenants.

It was against this background and based on feedback from meetings with groups of local residents that the URA decided to engage the community actively from the very beginning. Over the past two years, the URA has adopted a proactive, bottom-up approach in its community engagement initiatives involving extensively the local community and key stakeholders in a participative planning and design process.

The extensive consultation included conducting constant dialogue with concern groups; a community aspirations survey; community focus groups, setting up of the URA’s Kwun Tong District Advisory Committee comprising inter alia residents’ representatives; meetings with the Kwun Tong District Council; and organising a participatory community design workshop involving some 100 local residents, community leaders and professional groups. The six design frameworks emanating from the workshop following a thorough debate by those present were subsequently translated into three design concept models by professional architects. The models were displayed for public comments in a series of road shows which attracted some 85,400 visitors from August to October last year.

The final design that has evolved from all these rounds of public consultation has now been submitted to the Town Planning Board for consideration.

The URA has taken into account the views and suggestions of the residents and other stakeholders in the latest design effort. This design with all that it entails can best be described as the ‘People’s Choice’. The design plan incorporates 12 major features, reflecting aspirations of the community. These include:

  • Diversified build-form and architecture for community, commercial and residential purposes, ranging from modernistic and landmark features to traditional kaifong-style street bazaar;

  • A reasonable plot ratio commensurate with a town centre for the 600,000 population of Kwun Tong District;

  • Appropriate building height to free up more public open space on the ground;

  • Landmarks in the form of an oval-shaped multi-purpose civic centre, an iconic commercial tower and a cone-shaped glass atrium for the public transport interchange;

  • A terraced -garden design with abundant water features;

  • Green coverage of almost 30 percent of the site area;

  • Enlarging the Yue Man Square Rest Garden by four times and preserving the old trees;

  • An all-weather integrated public transport interchange that enables the entire site to become car-free in the open areas;

  • Using a building set-back design to widen the roads and pedestrian paths, and offer better views for all buildings surrounding the site;

  • Placing the commercial complex along Kwun Tong road as a noise barrier for residential blocks in the north;

  • Priority to be given to the reprovisioning of government buildings; and

  • A sophisticated network of footbridges and tunnels to enhance connectivity between the site and the surrounding area.

It is expected that air ventilation will also be much improved and noise pollution much reduced because of the purpose-built new structures.

You can see that suggestions by law-makers Alan Leong and Chan Yuen-han have also been taken into account and reflected in the final design, such as the provision of a traditional kaifong-style bazaar so that small businesses can continue their operation after redevelopment; a green coverage of about 30% of the site area; and preservation of the local streetscape and character.

We should add that the original design concept announced in August last year was based on a plot ratio of 7.98, which is in full compliance with the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines.

This notwithstanding, after considering carefully all views expressed in various quarters of the community and after a cautious assessment of the financial risks with which URA can cope, we have decided to lower the plot ratio to 7.5 including provision of all the community facilities. This reduction represents the maximum level of market risk that URA can take.

Clearly therefore the majority of our stakeholders have said ‘yes’ to this latest design. Likewise, we are confident the rejuvenated town centre will be the pride of Kwun Tong and indeed the community at large. Indeed overwhelming support to the design plan was also given by the local consultative body, the Kwun Tong District Council at its meeting on 17 May 2007.

As for the other projects named in your article, involving the Lee Tung Street (nicknamed Wedding Card Street) and Sai Yee (nicknamed Sneakers Street) Street, we wish to point out that, like the Kwun Tong project, they were announced by the LDC in 1998, well before the formation of the URA in 2001. People living in the old buildings have for many years lobbied the government for expediting the pace of redevelopment. The local district councils have also pressed for early implementation of these two projects. However, we are also mindful that some business operators may think otherwise. In all cases, we have tried to work out a solution that would balance the interests of the conflicting stakeholders as much as possible although we know, from our experience, that it is well-nigh impossible to please everyone in the task of urban renewal.

We hope you and your readers will find the above useful.

Paul S W Leung

Director, Corporate Communications

Urban Renewal Authority