Putting a cap on it
A surprise decision in a town where developers normally rule the roost sees new height limitations being imposed from Tsim Sha Tsui to the Mid-Levels. Joan Gill reports
The Town Planning Board is imposing height limitations on buildings throughout the territory, aiming to clear congestion, put an end to overdevelopment and preserve views. Tsim Sha Tsui is the latest on a 16-strong list of districts in which such restrictions have been enforced, most recently the Mid-Levels, North Point and Ho Man Tin.
The ruling in Tsim Sha Tsui ensures that commercial and residential sites around Nathan Road will be capped at 90 metres to 110 metres; on the waterfront redevelopments at Harbour City and China HK City will be limited to 85 metres, and at Star House, near the Star Ferry, to 90 metres. In East Tsim Sha Tsui, where existing buildings reach no more than 16 storeys, buildings will be limited to 60 metres – making it the lowest density commercial district in Hong Kong.
In Mid-Levels West restrictions have been imposed over 230 hectares stretching from Bonham Road, Caine Road and Kennedy Road, to Bowen Road, through Pokfulam Road and Pokfulam Country Park.
Under these new restrictions, Mid-Levels buildings must be between 170 metres and 320 metres high. Old buildings will be allowed to be re-built up to their current height, except for the Tregunter’s 69-storey Tower Three (at one point Asia’s tallest residential building), which has been capped at 35 storeys.
Controlling the height of buildings in the Mid-Levels is expected to improve wind flow from the Peak. Importantly too, the aim is to reduce congestion in Central: both visual congestion (too many tall buildings) and the traffic jams (too many people). A recent review by the Transport Department revealed that Central has the worst traffic flow out of the 11 districts studied; this is only going to worsen as 15 new developments are on their way up.
The government decision has been welcomed by Mid-Levels residents – apart from those planning to sell their homes in the near future that is. Clearly in the Mid-Levels, the redevelopment potential of residential towers has just slumped dramatically.
According to Raymond Lung, director of Professional Properties Co., “Without a sea view, properties can go for up to 50 percent less than similar properties with a view. Developers are very smart; they will go to whatever areas make them money.”
Experts are predicting that developers looking to put up skyscrapers in place of old properties will switch their focus from the Mid-Levels to Sheung Wan, Kennedy Town and Wanchai. The idea will be to get in quick before height limitations are imposed in those areas – something a few canny developers did last year in the Mid-Levels.
Towards the end of 2007, Swire Properties was granted permission to build two residential buildings (50-storeys and 47 storeys) on Castle Road and Seymour Road. By getting the go-ahead early, the firm will be able to build above 320 metres. So don’t be surprised if you see some tall buildings popping up in Mid-Levels over the next few months.
While these new restrictions will undoubtedly help to improve living conditions in Central, Lung notes that architects as well as developers may be inconvenienced. “From the architects’ point of view there’s much more restriction in terms of design, they have to change their original plans and often the outcome is not as nice as what they had envisioned.”
Hopefully, however, architects and developers will see this “set back” as an opportunity for creative urban renewal. Perhaps a way can be found to start redeveloping old buildings (and districts) while retaining their character: the only way is not up.