Baroque on Lamma – Town Planning Board meeting 16 Dec 2011

TPB Meeting Notes

After a meeting that lasted more than 3 hours this afternoon, the decision was “We’ll let you know.”

Observers spent most of the time wondering if the translators were making mistakes, or if what they were hearing really was absurd, and trying to figure out who was speaking as the quality of the video feed made it difficult to tell.

The meeting opened with declarations of interest. Mr. YK Cheng, CEO of the Baroque, said that “his company” had direct business interests in the Baroque and would not be present as a member of the TPB. He then appeared on the BOL side of the table as a proponent of the project.

To be fair, the chairperson did ask if anyone had been lobbied by Mr. Cheng, and thankfully no-one said they had, so on with the meeting.

The District Planning Office and AFCD spoke, outlining the scope and purpose of the project, and summarising what the various departments thought. The Commissioner for Tourism, Secretary for Home Affairs and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department apparently welcomed the project. The South Lamma Rural Committee and the local District Councillor also agreed to the development.

Opposing the project were the Development Opportunities Office, Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department, Marine Department, Transport Department, Police and Fire Services Departments and the Planning Department concluded their presentation by saying that, based on available evidence, they did not support the development.

What followed next was a series of presentations from the Baroque and their consultants from ERM, Aecom and AGC Design. A representative of Mott MacDonald was also present but, as far as we could tell from the screen, did not speak. Mr. Cowen Chiu, big wig of the yachting world gave a video presentation and Mr. Chong Dee Hwa of the Hong Kong Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong also spoke.

I sincerely hope that the meeting will be Minuted in all its glorious detail. The hour is too late and my notes too long to provide that here, but here are a few choice quotes:

“They call me the commodore of Lamma.” (Bobby Li)

“People who know me, well I think there are plenty of them…I face nature more than people and obtain information that is not available to people who work 9-5 in an office…..I love mother nature….There have been conflicts between China and Japan and we see the same with nature, we all need space. Can a person who loves nature go home and not have babies or shower with soap?…Eventually we are going to have to develop the coastal areas. This is a good opportunity and Mr. Bobby Li knows Lamma very well. When the project is realised, Mr. Bobby Li and his associates will be retired, so the benefits will be for future generations, not for themselves.” (Chong Dee Hwa)

We lost contact with the meeting as the project proponents moved to show off a model of the proposal. Not sure exactly who was speaking at this point, but the following quotes occurred when Aecom took the lead:

“The project will not pose a lot of impact on the environment. Between the buildings there is a lot of space for greenery. The marina will give you a leisurely feeling and an entirely different lifestyle”

“Our proposed development will improve the environment and create a very nice ambiance for the whole of Lamma Island. Some roads will be open to the public as well and some green places will be retained.”

“Our proposal will turn Lamma Island into an important tourist site.”

“This is the right location for a new marina.”

The OZP designations of conservation area and agricultural use have been around for quite some time. We need to update the zoning.”

Next it was the turn of ERM’s Frank Wan who said:

“There will be no impact on the frogs.”

On the possibility that the lights from the development would cause problems for the green turtles, he said that the project is “quite far away”, “more than 500 metres’, and the plan would be to use “red lights” during the nesting season for the hotel and the clubhouse to minimise any impact. There was no mention of the lights from the 900 flats or the boats, but they said that there should be a “post construction survey to confirm that the lights have not affected the turtles.”

We can only wonder how residents of the 6 Star hotel would like Lamma’s first red light district?

Mr. Wan also said that there would be a “loss of 48 hectares of fishing ground”, but it’s OK because, “the artificial reef will enhance marine resources.”

Next August Tiu talked about the “conservation corridor to protect flora and fauna” and Grace Cheng from AGC Design talking about Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. It emerged later that some of the project team had also travelled to St. Tropez and Monte Carlo on fact finding missions for the Baroque.

YK Cheng asked for “5 more minutes to wrap up.” He said, “It takes time for the public to accept the development. We have talked to green groups, yachting groups, etc and also organised a forum with Minutes. I am delighted that the level of acceptance has been increasing. 95% of indigenous villagers support the project and 100% of those who run businesses support it.”

He mentioned that the Capella – a “6 star hotel in Singapore” – had signed a letter of intention to run the hotel if the project goes ahead.

There followed a Q&A and an opportunity for more great quotes:

“I’d like to stress that I am independent. I am not a consultant, I am a partner.” (Mr. Chong)

“I have an observation. It’s just like dogs and monkeys. They don’t tolerate each other. It’s just like cats and rats. If they are raised together, they will tolerate each other. Turtles have been around for 215 million years, longer than people and we have to see how they adapt. We should study that. With new gene technologies we can allow turtles to come back to their original habitats.” (Mr. Chong)

“The resort hotel in Singapore is a very good project. There is not much space between the buildings but actually its huge space because when you are inside you can’t see the next building.” (Grace Cheng)

Responding to a comment from a TPB member that the outcome of the Baroque’s public consultation was at odds with the number of objections received, a spokesperson for the Baroque said: “We can’t identify where the objections have come from. We don’t know who they are. There were objections at the start but very soon the number of supporters grew very substantially.”

“This is for the long term benefit of Hong Kong. I love Lamma.” (Bobby Li)

Mr Li concluded: “This is a chicken and egg situation. We need an outline and we need to go deeper. Just approve the outline. Endorsement of this outline doesn’t mean that we can do it in the end.”

You might be wondering what some of this means. You might even find you disagree with some of the comments. If so, please address your remarks to Mr. Bobby Li and YK Cheng, The Baroque on Lamma, enquiry@bol-hk.com, tel: 28473383 or drop by their office at 33/F Citibank Tower, Garden Road, Hong Kong. Be sure to say who you are!

By the way, the Planning Department have done a marvelous job in synthesizing all the submissions on the Baroque. Their report is the size of a large telephone directory and is available for public viewing at their offices in Shatin.