An issue as important to our heritage as a 111-year-old transport institution cannot be trifled with.
But the Hong Kong government is beginning to look utterly dismissive by saying nothing.
Hong Kong people deserve to know how it’s dealing with a proposal by a private consultant that tram lines be removed from Central to ease road congestion.
The aim might be practical, even noble, but the way in which the study proposes to go about it shows everything that is wrong with our urban development program.
First of all, anyone involved in this initiative should have a little respect for our heritage.
Second, even if we ignore the fact that our tramways are six times older than our post-colonial history, we should pause to consider how they’re performing a vital public service.
More than 200,000 commuters rely on the trams every day, making them a critical complement to our highly regarded transport system.
We could argue that kicking the tram out of Central will not necessarily cause its demise until we consider that we’re depriving it of a vital artery and taking away a big chunk of passenger traffic.
Let’s forget for a moment the government’s deafening silence on the matter and look at the consultant which conducted the study.
Intellects Consultancy Ltd. is controlled by a former civil servant who worked previously at the Planning Department.
That alone tells us something about the study, apart from its stated aim to decongest the roads in Central.
Is it testing the waters for future development of the Central business district?
But the most obvious beneficiaries of the proposal are Central’s landlords who will no longer have to put up with an ordinance that requires them to set aside part of their properties for use by Hong Kong Tramways Ltd.
At present, all buildings on the tram route have to provide space for Hong Kong Tramways’ power supply.
Their owners can challenge the ordinance by filing a judicial review but for the most part, it has held up against attempts to weaken it.
Hong Kong Tramways and building owners see this arrangement from different perspectives.
The former says it’s an idispensable part of its operation while the latter insists it’s an unfair imposition.
But commentator Jacky Lim believes it’s all to do with a redevelopment plan for Central.
Landlords see the arrangement as an obstacle to those plans.
We don’t need him to point out the obvious — that certain parts of Central are weathered and many old buildings could use a new face or new bones.
But it’s good that Lim is raking that notion with a fine-toothed comb.
He says commercial buildings on the tram route are getting old and landlords are waiting in the wings to demolish them and build skyscrapers.
The result is not just a more impressive Central landscape but fatter bank accounts for the landlords.
But they have to deal with Hong Kong Tramways and the Planning Board over what to do with the tram facilities.
The study seems to have made the task a little less complicated.
Is this another instance of property tycoons bringing their influence to bear on the government?
There’s no evidence to link Intellects Consultancy or its study to the landlords but rumors will continue to abound until the government comes out and says something.
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