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Central Market — One Dead, Three to go.

2015/4/28 — 9:00

The Chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority, Victor So Hing-who, has publicly questioned whether the HK$1.5bln price tag – triple the original redevelopment budget – for the Central Market project is worth it. No it is not. And cost is not the only problem. Adding an outlandish UFO on top doubles the height. The Town Planning Board’s approval of it as a ‘minor height relaxation’ is being challenged in Court. And then there is the lack of consent from the Building’s Department – there is no way that the existing structure can bear the load of the UFO, so the entire building will have to be reconstructed. In the meantime we all have to pretend it is a heritage conservation project. Next, there is the huge bill from the Lands Department for the change in land use. That this comes as such a late surprise opens the window on a huge disconnect within Government. The change in land use was clearly spelled out in the 2009/2010 Policy Address when the URA was tasked with revitalizing the Central Market as a Central Oasis – not a market.

So what next now the UFO has finally crashed? Well, the land premium is easy to resolve, revitalize the central market as a market. I declare a conflict of interest here: On 30 August 2010 we proposed exactly that to the Central Oasis Community Advisory Committee. Our argument: The building is purposely designed as a market – so keep it as a market to best conserve it.

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The second step is to go back to the 2011 design competition and the four architectural firms which were selected to submit conceptual design proposals. The UFO was declared the winner but it turns out to be infeasible. So to be fair to the other architects who worked hard to bid for the project, we need to give their proposals another chance. This would also save time and money as there work is already in hand.

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The Urban Cocoon however suffers many of the same problems as the UFO. It proposes to gut the interior and add structures on top to leave a cocoon full of green. The concept also leaves you with more technical questions than answers. This is an indication that this one too will be expensive. By the time you are done you will have rebuilt the entire structure and land premiums will be due for the change in land use.

If the Gateway sounds like an airport or station, it is. The designers focused on the Central Market as a logistical solution. They proposed to double the elevated walkways which connected the mid-levels escalator with the central footbridge system. They also proposed to gut the inside to increase the capacity of the connection with the street level. Which begs the question why keep the building? If that was the brief, simply erase the building, replace the narrow pavements with wide footways and create a park at street level around a convenient access point to the elevated footbridge. Practical and cheap, but it does not conserve the building very well.

Finally, Heritage Inspiration proposes pain staking adherence to the architectural heritage and emphasizes the original design intent. It also proposes the use of the building as a market. And with the nearby street markets killed off by urban renewal, why not? No change in land use – so no reason for the Lands Department to be a killjoy. Keeping much of the interior design intact saves lots of money. And Mr. So, you can truly claim to have conserved the building and the market for the public. Applause.

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