Public Minor Works Report March 2013

Report presented to Home Affairs Department, Environmental Protection Department and 1823

Background:

For the past 4 years, Living Lamma has been trying to lobby District Office Islands (DO/Is) for better design of minor works, but with little success. Instead we have seen a succession of projects that have despoiled our countryside, turned areas that people used to enjoy into ones they no longer want to use, and in one case in particular have caused danger to the public.

At the same time, DO/Is has done little in response to requests to clean up our environment, improve areas for public enjoyment and make pathways safe.

Living Lamma members have taken up countless hours in correspondence and submitting reports to DO/Is. We have met with various representatives of the office numerous times over the years and instigated several site visits.

While representatives of DO/Is have been paid to meet with us, members of the community have used so many hours of their own time for free – and it appears with no result – to try to alter the design of projects so that public money is not squandered, our environment is not damaged and that public safety concerns are addressed.

In less than 4 years, we have seen 3 District Officers, 3 Assistant District Officers and 2 Liaison Officers pass through DO/Is. All have failed to address the problems catalogued in this paper. We have explained the problems in detail to: District Officers: Byron Lam and Danny Lau, Assistant District Officers: Timothy Tam and Nikki Lau, Liaison Officers: Nina Yiu, Ivy Chan, Joe Hui and Ken Chan, and Works Section staff: Wing Tak Chan and Ricky Lee. None of these people have taken steps to address the issues raised and not one of these people has to live with the consequences of their actions.

One of the projects described below – a proposed cycle parking area – was presented to the Chief Executive in Council and approved on 5th February 2013 – despite a great many practical problems raised over the location choice, which have not been addressed. We wonder what information DO/Is provided to the Chief Executive for him to approve the use of HK$15 million in public funds to build a bike park that an award winning cycle park designer has said will not be fit for use? (See the letter from Anthony Lau in Appendix 1.) Does he know that, by following procedure, DO/Is has disregarded sensible objections and used the participation of members of the public and registered interest groups to justify a poorly thought out plan?

Other minor works projects listed below have destroyed the landscape value of Lamma, ignoring the planning intention for Lamma, which states that all development should be in keeping with the natural landscape. They have been designed by bureaucrats, without consideration for the surrounding area or on the way in which people interact with the area.

Most seriously, in one case, work carried out by DO/Is has made a previously safe path unsafe. Though there were objections to the work over a year ago, DO/Is recorded it as a pathway “improvement.” This week a woman suffered serious injury in falling off the path. Her blood now stains this minor works project.

Examples of Minor Works Projects on Lamma:

  1. Proposal for the Cycle Parking Area (CPA)

In April 2009, members of the public responded to a notice outlining plans to pour concrete over the last remaining natural shoreline in Yung Shue Wan. HAD made written assurances that the plans were in the “preliminary stage” and that the project would not go ahead without consultation with the public. Living Lamma subsequently studied the proposal and produced a report in which alternative plans were put forward, including landscape drawings. Our ideas were never shared with the public. We have recently discovered that another residents’ group had proposed similar solutions for bike parking in 2003, also addressing the problem of the derelict shoreline, but these ideas were also kept from the public. This was the suggestion:

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In fact at no time has DO/Is explained any of the problems, issues or alternative designs to the public. We have also found DO/Is’s communication on the subject to be biased and misleading, even to the point of implying that green groups, including Living Lamma, support DO/Is’s proposal. Their claims of wide consultation and public support rest on meetings with various committees under the District Council, all of which have the same small circle of members.

Like the residents’ group of 2003, Living Lamma has suggested improving bike parking along the pier and/or making use of the derelict shoreline. Both the Planning Department and CEDD, the works agent, have said that there is no reason why these options could not be pursued.

These are the designs that Living Lamma has presented to DO/Is. They have been suggested with a whole range of simple measures to improve the outlook of our harbour front, clean up our community and improve public facilities – all of which have been ignored by DO/Is.

1. Making Use of the Pier

We have explored making modifications to the pier such as in the picture below. This would be sensible as it is in line with people’s current habits.

In fact, the problem of bike parking on the pier could have been resolved very quickly and cheaply by painting white lines down each side of the pier to ensure that people parked in an orderly fashion. Most people are considerate – it is just a few people behaving irresponsibly that cause the problem. That said, the installation of better bike parking could also be an opportunity to improve the outlook and facilities on the pier and around the area, so that residents and visitors are met with a beautiful, well-kept environment at the arrival point to the island.

  1. Making use of the derelict shoreline, including the illegal platform area

Living Lamma suggested transforming the derelict shoreline and illegal platform area to incorporate bike parking as indicated here:

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Instead of responding to the needs of the area, DO/Is has single-mindedly pursued a poorly conceived plan, discounting any information that conflicts with their preferred option. Lamma will be getting a project that has been designed for bureaucratic convenience and, according to cycle parking experts, will not be fit for purpose. There will be a concrete slab covering the last remaining natural shoreline feature in Yung Shue Wan harbour, creating yet another eyesore for people coming off the ferry. Bicycles will obstruct access to the library, the fisherman’s village and pagoda and the bike park will only accommodate 260 out of the 470 bicycles that are currently parked on and around the pier.

This problem with the design of public minor works is not unique to Lamma. The photos below show a cycle parking area in the New Territories, which stands empty while cyclists prefer to park along the railings only a few metres away. We have also been told about other such “white elephant” projects across Hong Kong.

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At least in the above example, though the cycle parking blatantly does not work, millions of dollars were not used to pour concrete over natural shoreline while leaving derelict shoreline untouched, which is what will happen on Lamma now that the Chief Executive has approved the plan put forward by DO/Is.

2. Pathway “improvement” at Tai Peng

In December 2011, DO/Is carried out concreting works to the path at Tai Peng, which leads to Pak Kok. Residents did not know about this work, which has raised the level of the path where it was flat before and is now considered dangerous, when it was safe before. Where the path was flush with the surrounding area, it now creates a concrete barrier, which it is feared will become a trap for water, and therefore cause mosquito breeding, in the rainy months. The photo below shows the “improvement.”

DO/Is received numerous complaints about this path from people living in the vicinity as it was being built and shortly thereafter, but no action was taken. Sadly, on March 13th, 2013 a female cyclist came off the path here and was badly injured. The pathway is now stained with blood (see picture below).

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DO/Is have applied to install railings along this section of path. This also creates safety concerns, as there would then be no means for vvs, cyclists or pedestrians to pull over or step aside to avoid each other. This is another example of a project that has been designed without any consideration for how people use the area. At the same time, other requests for railings and renovations to make pathways safe have been ignored.

The one place where action has been taken has been on Tai Wan To beach. Living Lamma first reported the rusty exposed pipes there to District Office by Living Lamma in February 2010. These presented a threat to public safety as some of the rusty holes were partially covered by sand. It would have been very easy for someone to cut a foot.

When no action was taken, further complaints were made early in 2012. The work was finally carried out in November 2012 after more phone calls from Living Lamma. This area is popular with families and it is a great relief that no-one was injured on the pipes. It is mind boggling that it takes a department that pledges to “Pro-actively reach out to the community, listen to public views, understand people’s aspirations and better serve our community” so long to fix dangerous pipes on a popular beach.

  1. The Great Concrete Wall of Tung O

DO/Is replaced the railings at Tung O bay on South Lamma with a 11.5 metre concrete wall that seriously impact the visual impact and public enjoyment of the area. This was without any notice been given to Living Lamma, despite the numerous meetings we have had with DO/Is over the previous 3 years stressing the importance of sensitive design in areas of natural beauty. Indeed, DO/Is does not share its plans with Living Lamma, despite the numerous requests we have made as a registered NGO.

Children struggle to see the sea for the concrete at an otherwise stunning location.

Though HAD’s environmental report claims to improve the environment through minor works, this has not been the practice at Tung O (and with other projects outlined below), where it is likely the concrete wall will lead to the erosion of the beach. It has certainly severely impacted the enjoyment of the area for hikers who remember the stunning view of the bay before the “Great Concrete Wall of Tung O” was built.

Pictured above: DO/Is pathway “improvement” at Tung O – the view from the beach

  1. The Tai Peng Sitting Out Area

Living Lamma only found out about this project when one of our members noticed a government worker measuring the area. DO/Is’s initial plan was to create a 10ft x 8ft solid concrete platform from the hill top at Tai Peng, which would have created a 2 metre concrete wall for people coming up the hill. Living Lamma pointed out that elderly people liked to use the inner path rest at the seats and the original HAD design would have prevented them from doing so. We also pointed out that the platform would be dangerous for children, not only for the drop it would have created but also for the inability of drivers to see children as they came round the corner.

Living Lamma members, including a landscaper, an engineer, and users of the area put forward alternative plans. Though we could see no benefit in pouring concrete – the area could have been enhanced simply with better seating – the DO/Is Liaison Officer (Ivy Chan) urged us to compromise, as the budget had already been allocated.

Living Lamma has no wish to create friction in our community and we agreed to a compromise. Our plans included increasing the number of seats, landscaping and pitching the roof of the shelters so that they would stay clean, as well as keeping easy access for those that need it on the inside path.

In the end, it was no compromise. DO/Is largely ignored our suggestions. What used to be a lovely place to sit now has two concrete platforms encased in railings, with the seating facing the steps instead of the view. The steps that have been created make it difficult for the elderly to enter the sitting area. Where the area used to be part of the path, and therefore maintained by FEHD, it is now a DO/Is project and DO/Is does not have recurrent expenditure to maintain its areas. The suggestion for a pitch roof was used for one shelter, but not for the other. As a result, where people used to have a view of the trees above, they now see the dirty roof of a metal and perspex shelter that in actually fact provides little protection from the rain.

A view of the trees without and with DO/Is’s “improvement” (top) and how it looks through the shelter (bottom half of the picture).

The new sitting out area features steps, concrete and railings, and has fewer places to sit (see picture below):

The same view is shown below before the minor works were undertaken. The area could have been improved simply with better seating and painting railings on the right hand side.

The picture below shows the top view of the new sitting out area, where you can see anything for the railings.

This was an open area before – a great place to meet and watch the world go by.

And this is the view that you now have if you sit there:

  1. The Refurbishment of Pagodas

With no notice in the community and no discussion with Living Lamma, despite meetings to discuss the design of public works, DO/Is undertook the refurbishment of two pagodas on Lamma, resulting in them becoming clad in pink ‘bathroom’ tile and surrounded by railings.

The photo below shows the iconic look of all pagodas had on Lamma before DO/Is refurbished them– white with a green roof:

And the photos below show what the pagodas looked like once DO/Is had refurbished them with pink and green tiles, dark grey seats, green railings and cladding.

  1. Concrete staircase on hiking trail at Lo Tik Wan

In 2002, a plan to create a concrete path along the hiking trail from where the windmill currently stands to the youth hostel and down to Lo Tik Wan was shelved after public opposition. In December 2011, without notice in the community, DO/Is cut a wide track to construct a concrete staircase up the hillside from Lo Tik Wan to the hiking trail. DO/Is claims the project ends with a 3.5 metre wide concrete slab in the middle of the hiking trail and that there are no plans to extend the concreting. The work so far, however, is out of keeping with the natural landscape and has seriously affected public enjoyment of the trail.

This photo shows the preparation for the concrete steps cutting a path through the vegetation.

The photo below shows the view of the top of the steps where it meets the hiking trail. HAD’s environmental report says: “We use environmentally friendly materials in our minor works projects, e.g. natural stones for walking trails” yet this is not the case on Lamma – an island designated for tourism, leisure and nature conservation.

When we complained to DO/Is about this “improvement”, they responded that the large concrete platform in the middle of a hiking trail in the middle of the countryside was “designed to enable pedestrians to have a clearer view at the road junction.” We would like to invite readers to put on their hiking shoes and visit the area in order to understand how truly ridiculous that statement is.

We enclose 2 other pieces of evidence with regard to the poor state of the work proposed and carried out by District Office:

  1. A letter to the Assistant District Officer from a bike park architect listing the reasons why the cycle parking area proposed for Lamma is a poor use of public funds.
  2. An opinion article in the SCMP outlining damage done by Home Affairs public minor works projects elsewhere in Hong Kong. In fact, this is a territory wide problem.

From: Anthony Lau

Sent: 19 November 2012 02:19

To: ‘niki_cw_kwok@had.gov.hk

Cc: ‘Diana Lee’

Subject: RE: Objection to the proposed construction of the CPA near Yung Shue Wan Ferry Pier

 

Dear Mr. Kwok

 

I am writing to you to lodge our objection to the proposed construction of the Cycle Parking Area (CPA) near Yung Shue Wan Ferry Pier under the Roads (Works, Use and Compensation) Ordinange on 6 March 2012.

 

We are an award-winning international firm of architects and designers specialising in the design of cycle parking and have been asked to provide our professional advice on this matter.

 

We have considered your proposed project and have conducted site visits to the proposed area as well attended a meeting at the District Council Offices with you and representatives from Living Lamma.

 

Background

–          There is currently no cycle racks on the pier platform and cyclists are forced to park their bicycles along the pier.

–          There are approximately 300-400 bicycles parked each day and this has been increasing over the past 15 years. This ad-hoc parking is the most convenient location for cyclists getting to the ferry pier.

–          Due to the high number of cyclists and the lack of any cycle racks, bicycle parking can become untidy and cluttered on the pier platform. Poorly parked bicycles can become an obstruction but it was noted residents have tried to organise their bicycles by hanging the front wheels over the railings to increase the pedestrian space.

–          Without any bicycle racks or shelter from the elements, bicycles parked on the platform can be easily damaged or rust and break down. As a result there are occasionally abandoned bicycles which take up space.

 

Problems with the current proposal

The proposal to create a platform at the end of the pier has several major problems we would like to point out:

 

1-      The bicycle racks are poorly paid out with spacing between the bicycle racks too close together

Outdated TPDM standards have been used in the layout of the cycle racks. International cycle parking standards require a clear 1m-1.5m corridor space (currently this is around 0.5m). This will result in the first few rows of racks being used, after which it will be difficult to access the rear racks making the facility difficult and unsafe to use as you have to lift your bicycle over other bicycles.

 

2-      The proposed CPA does not provide sufficient capacity to meet current demand

The plans shows approximately 300 bike spaces. If bicycles are laid out to minimum international standards, the actual number is around 260 bike spaces. This number is insufficient to cater for the daily number of bicycles on the pier.

 

3-      The location of the cycle parking / attractors

Location of any cycle parking facility should be carefully considered otherwise it will not be used by cyclists. Research have shown cyclists will always try to park as close to the destination (in this case the Ferry terminal) and they will continue to park on the pier unless the facility offers certain advantages to attract users. A good Cycle Park should be:

–          More secure

–          Easy and quick to park with high quality cycle racks

–          Provide protection from the elements (e.g. create a canopy)

–          Provide a greater number of spaces than the current demand (i.e. it will not be 100% full so that it is easy to find a free parking space )

 

The proposed CPA does not provide any of the above attractors. Without this cyclists will choose not to use this facility as it located further away from their destination (the ferry terminal) and will instead continue to park their bicycles on the pier railings.

 

4-      Cost of project

The budget for the CPA (approx $15 million HKD) is primarily spent on the construction of the concrete platform. Little of the funding is actually spent on the cycle racks (which cost on average $300-400 HKD each). This amount should be better spent on providing some of the key attractors listed above in order to create a good Cycle Park.

Our recommendations

There is an opportunity to create an exemplary cycle park for Lamma and we urge you not to rush ahead with the current proposal.

 

The design and layout of the proposed CPA is not fit for purpose and it will not solve the problem of cycle parking at the ferry pier resulting in an expensive waste of public money.

 

We strongly recommend a holistic approach to this issue of bicycle parking in Lamma. This includes a study of the existing bicycle usage and parking in Lamma involving local cycling groups to provide accurate data and understanding of the current cycle parking behavior.

 

I hope you will consider changes to the proposed CPA design along with alternative cycle parking options that will help to resolve the problems listed above. This includes considering bicycle racks on the platform, introducing a system of managing poorly parked or abandoned bicycles, providing alternative bicycle parking at locations in the vicinity of the pier / within Yung Shue Wan etc.

 

We can provide our professional advice in this matter if required.

 

Kind regards

 

Anthony Lau

MArch ARB FRSA

 

Managing Director

Cyclehoop Ltd

Unit 3 Forest Hill Industrial Estate,

Perry Vale, London SE23 2LX

 

SCMP Opinion: 30th October 2012

The government must stop ‘improving’ our countryside

Markus Shaw is appalled by the damage done by one hired contractor

Government would do well to heed an ancient tenet of the medical profession: “First, do no harm.”

Last weekend, I stood by a construction site in one of Hong Kong’s most picturesque rural areas, shaking my head in anger and dismay. A large pavilion is being built on a headland next to a stream which feeds into Leung Shuen Wan, a bay containing two villages, a famous temple, a fish farm and a couple of restaurants, which are popular with hikers and yachtsmen. Feral cows feed in the grassy patches, and flitting through the undergrowth at this time of year are floods of butterflies. I have been coming here since my childhood.

Words cannot do justice to the devastation: trees and bushes have been cut down and pushed over; thrown into the undergrowth all around is construction waste of every description – hoses, barrels, bags and sheeting, excavator treads, drinks bottles, planks, gloves, rubber boots. Cement from bags that have burst open hardens in clumps in the sand. Rubble and debris have been pushed into the stream, which used to be clear and is now murky.

This is a government contract; a District Minor Works project sponsored by the Home Affairs Department. Leaving aside whether this pavilion is an improvement on nature, or whether it will actually be enjoyed by visitors to the area, nothing can possibly justify the comprehensive trashing of the environment that is taking place around the site.

District Minor Works in rural areas are like the neutron bomb – the penumbra of destruction extends beyond the construction site like an ugly smear. Who is supervising this project? Who is responsible?

The Home Affairs Department complains that it does not have landscape architects with the requisite skills to design facilities sympathetically, or the manpower to supervise projects to minimise environmental damage. This is less of an excuse than an admission of guilt. If a job cannot be done well, don’t do it. “First, do no harm.”

All over our countryside areas, badly conceived and badly executed “improvement” projects continue to blight the landscape. The department should ensure that none of these projects proceeds until they can be designed and executed according to the standards that now apply in country park areas.

Pak A is one of 77 enclaves in country parks. Following the recent controversy over attempted development in the Tai Long Sai Wan enclave, the government has embarked on a process to protect these enclaves with zoning or inclusion in the country parks. The process is painfully slow and, in the meantime, development pressure on these areas is gaining strength.

Many of these enclaves are still controlled or owned by indigenous villagers. The Heung Yee Kuk represents the interests of the indigenous community in rural areas, but what and who is it good for?

Outside the country parks, it has presided over rural blight that puts the worst examples of urban blight to shame. It seems concerned only to monetise its privileges in whatever way it can; there is little consciousness of any responsibility to preserve a culture.

Indigenous villagers seem wholly unsentimental about their patrimony, blind to the trashing of their surroundings and only too keen to cash in and sell out to developers. It is left to non-indigenous villagers (how ironic) to defend and restore rural heritage; nowhere is this more obvious than in the enclave at Pak Sha O, where they have recreated a rural idyll from some of the last old village houses left in the area.

Now that, too, is under threat – from a developer with close connections to the kuk.

Author: Jo Wilson