Building variance given to diocese prompts protests/questions

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Grand Bauhinia Medal

The South China Morning Post reports pro-democracy activists and opposition members of the legislative council have objected to a variance given by the Hong Kong planning board to the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui to build a 25-story hospital building on church land. The move has prompted speculation by some Hong Kong Anglicans the zoning variance was a reward for the church’s silent support of the pro-Peking city executive.

The government planning board’s decision to relax height limits and develop the historic site on Hong Kong island’s Central District comes amidst a wave of pro-democracy protests in the city. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s leaders, the head of the HKSHK the Most Rev. Paul Kwong, has supported the government and denounced pro-democracy protests. However, the archbishop later softened his stance, urging the government to dialogue with democracy activists.

Last month Archbishop Kwong, who also is the chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, was one of eleven people honored with the Gold Bauhinia Star by the city government. “The honours recipients are from different walks of life. They are given an honour or award in recognition of their significant contributions to Hong Kong or for their dedicated public and community service,” a government press release said.

In May the Town Planning Board overturned an earlier ruling by city planners that would lower the height limits of the proposed new building to be constructed on the site of the Bishop’s House compound. The board instead raised the height limit to 135 meters, allowing the construction of a 25 story building.

“The Town Planning Board and Planning Department have customised the height limit for Sheng Kung Hui, so it is almost like there is no limit,” Katty Law Ngar-ning, convenor of the Government Hill Concern Group she told the SCMP, adding: “This will destroy the heritage environment on Government Hill and Bishop Hill while also bringing huge traffic disruption.”

The newspaper reported that Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan was disturbed by the rule changes.  “It seems to have changed from what was originally discussed with the government, from a community centre that provides simple medical services to a private hospital,” she said.

She urged the planning board to be open in its decision making process, otherwise “this will give people the impression of ‘black box’ proceedings.” The diocese declined to respond to queries from the newspaper.