Urban Renewal Authority under fire for being “overly-friendly” to big developers

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 The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has recently taken centre stage in Hong Kong. The statutory body was blamed for acquiring an old residential units in To Kwa Wan at a record price of HK$15,900 per square foot, as critics suspect URA is planning to build another luxury residential complex to make profit and the “sky-high” offer price would affect the rent in the district.

In fact, the URA has come under fire in multiple occasions this year. When it significantly changed the original design of a mega-redevelopment project in Kwun Tong in September this year, people were not happy because the original design was praised for greater wide-open spaces and public amenities. The provisions were dropped and instead they were modified in ways that reportedly allowed big brands and expensive flats to be brought in. URA eventually apologised under public pressure and declared the design to be not final, however questions have been raised if the authority is being “overly-friendly” to big developers, instead of being more people-oriented, caring and responsive to local needs.

Despite being heavily criticised, some say it is not fair to solely blame URA for outcomes. “Redevelopment of land is a complicated process that involves multiple authorities. The plan needs to comply with rules including the Outline Zoning Plan (OZP), which control is exercised by Planning Department, the Building Ordinance, control exercised by Building Department, and finally the lease conditions, which is oversaw by the Lands Department”, a former senior land surveyor at the Lands Department told Harbour Times.

“Even when people are not happy with the situation, I don’t think it is fair to blame and single out one entity. I am unsure if URA’s intention is profit-making in this specific case, but I would like to point out that URA is a self-financing body so they do have to make revenue to function, it is not like they have the whole government to support their operation”, said the source.

He also pointed out that sometimes redevelopment plans get delayed because of the complaint and protests of local residents, which often makes the redevelopment process more difficult.

“People often say they don’t want the redevelopment plan in their neighborhood to be approved for reasons such as a new building here and there might block the ocean view from their apartment balconies,” the former surveyor said.

Wai Chi-sing, managing director of URA, defended the body’s decisions and warned that it could run into financial problems in a few years time if its profits could not support its new projects.

“We need to ensure our financial reserve is enough to support our operation when, or if, another economic downturn hits Hong Kong’s property market”, Wai said.

“I think our level of net assets was still quite low,” he added. “The authority needs to purchase more old buildings to keep up with the pace of urban decay.”


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