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Saturday, August 22, 2015, 12:03

Board approves Tsim Sha Tsui renovation project

By Luis Liu in Hong Kong

The Town Planning Board (TPB) approved the controversial Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront renovation project on Friday — though opposition to the plan remains strong.

New World Development (NWD), which put forward the plan jointly with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), was given the go-ahead to carry out the development.

The approval, announced at a press conference after the TPB meeting, came with conditions. The TPB urged NWD to maintain the width of the pavements for crowd control management. It was also told to revise the design of a viewing deck considered “too big”.

The renovation, which covers an area of 37,900 square meters, will require the area to be closed for three years during construction.

According to a document from the Travel Industry Council, construction will start as soon as in mid-September. The TPB urged the developer to shorten the construction period.

During the discussion, TPB member Wilton Fok Wai-tung questioned the decision-making procedure in which no open tender has been carried out. He was concerned about any under-the-table deals between the LCSD and the proposed partner NWD.

LCSD Director Michelle Li Mei-sheung said NWD has experience and the plan is in the public interest. She said such an arrangement could also reduce government expenditure.

She also stressed that the waterfront, upon completion of the plan, will still be wholly owned and managed by the LCSD. NWD will be responsible for day-to-day operations.

Yau Tsim Mong District Councilor and member of the District Facilities Management Committee Kwan Sau-ling welcomed the plan. She said the Avenue of Stars had been suffering from an aging problem during the past decade.

However, local concern groups stood strongly against the renovation plan. Tsim Sha Tsui Residents Concern Group spokeswoman Mary Mulvihill said it will “commercialize” the neighborhood.

Mulvihill, who comes from Ireland, has lived in Tsim Sha Tsui for 25 years.

The pedestrian link from East Tsim Sha Tsui to Hung Hom, which was previously a public space not under NWD’s control, is included in the plan. Mulvihill said such an arrangement had deprived local residents of the right to enjoy a tranquil and not-so-crowded harbor.

According to a documentary on the plan, the link’s passenger flow will increase to 3,000 per hour from the present 200.

Having been a tourism consultant for 17 years, Mulvihill also criticized the plan for being short-sighted. She said the renovation would only attract first-time tourists but would drive away high-end and repeat visitors to the area. This contradicted the Hong Kong government’s blueprint on high-end tourism growth.

She vowed to apply for a judicial review to force the authority to withdraw the plan and carry out a public consultation.

According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the Avenue of Stars ranked first among the city’s tourist attractions, with 29 percent favoring it in a survey on tourists’ choices in 2014.

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