Baroque and a hard place

What a terrible dilemma Mr. Cheng Yan-kee JP is facing.

On 2nd December, his role as CEO of “Baroque on Lamma” will see him rooting for the company as it tries once again to get the Town Planning Board to let them build a ‘world-class’ marina on South Lamma Island. Oh and 850 houses, a hotel and car parking for 135 cars. All this on an island that has no roads to speak of.

On 2nd December, Mr. Cheng Yan-kee JP will also be sitting on the Town Planning Board. The one that decides whether the self same “Baroque on Lamma” gets to do all this. And obviously he’ll be rooting for his fellow board members to make a decision that is in the best interests of Hong Kong. Obviously.

Let’s be clear. Cheng can’t vote on this issue. Phew! Because for a minute there we thought there might just be a conflict of interest. He was appointed to the TPB  way back on 1st April 2006 – a role he is scheduled to relinquish next year. And as a senior and respected member, it would be naïve to assume he has no influence over the proceedings. Naïve? It’d be insane. He’ll have been lobbying like a dervish.

South Lamma – note the steady stream of container ships (photo by headless monk)

Before Baroque on Lamma can start realising their “vision” they need the TPB to change the zoning of a great swathe of land. But why are they going to the trouble of proposing a development in a place that is protected? Surely there are better places? Somewhere  to park your luxury yacht that won’t interfere with a species whose existence is hanging by a thread. Well there are, but that wouldn’t really work for co-developer King Wong Development.

For a number of years, King Wong and their Managing Director Billy Li has been buying up small rural plots on Lamma – to such an extent, he has been dubbed the landlord of Lamma. Unfortunately all this land isn’t much use since it borders a large area the pesky government is protecting for all those pesky endangered species. So the developers have taken the unusual step of asking the government to actually move the goalposts for them.

For them to be successful it would take a huge reversal of their fortunes the last time out when their application was summarily rejected. But that was back in the days before Mr. Cheng scored his gig as Baroque on Lamma’s CEO.

In our opinion (and the opinion of every group that’s been near any of the plans),  a rezoning of this land would be an utter travesty that would benefit a few property owners and some playboys dumb enough to want to park their billion dollar yachts next to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. I’m guessing that’ll be quite a few of them then.

But who is set to lose out?

Abramovich v TurtleWho would you rather have popping round from time to time?

Well South Lamma is an area of particular interest for WWF HK (World Wide Fund for Nature). The green turtles sighted there are now incredibly rare and anything that is done to upset their environment would put their very existence in the balance. Also under threat would be Romer’s tree frog another endangered species that might be tipped over the edge.

In surveys carried out earlier in the year, divers made some rare sightings there. In every survey completed thus far (that wasn’t done by or paid for by Baroque on Lamma) the conclusion has been that this harebrained scheme would have a devastating ecological impact.

These guys don’t live in corridors

Despite a hopelessly misguided attempt at grandeur with that name, the good folks at Baroque on Lamma have developed a rather humble website. In it the company seems to want us to believe that they are eco warriors bravely preserving the world’s most rare inhabitants and precious resources. And as a mere sideline, they build chuffing great big marinas and hotels. Here’s a snippet from their eco-friendly eco-blog on eco-issues:

It is the rapid spread of this ‘sly’ tree climber that is devastating the ecology of Lamma Island and the rest of Hong Kong. This notoriously parasitic weed climbs over fences, rooftops and up old Banyan trees. It is a shame to see ancient trees covered by Mikania and to know very well that they would die prematurely due to this aggressive eco-invader.

Oh yes, it’s the tree climbers that are the real problem here. Interestingly if you change the highlighted words for “Baroque on Lamma” this passage works even better.

If they are to be believed, this development will actually help wildlife with the building of an eco corridor. Because everyone knows turtles simply thrive when they live in corridors.

Incidentally, their site lists some “Green Partners”-

The Icthyological Society of Hong Kong (fish fanciers to you or us) and the grandly named  Zoological Society of Hong Kong – an organization that no one has heard of and who are not listed in any of the usual forms anywhere. Hmmmm….

Also, they have enlisted the invaluable services of Motorwave Group. This is a Hong Kong company that is developing (note the present tense) a system for generating power using stream water. A worthy enterprise. But is an experiment really the best way to go about ensuring the carbon neutrality of your billion dollar investment? Their main man is a scary looking scientist whose previous experience includes the invention of a candy that lights up when you chew it.

Since their last failed attempt, Baroque on Lamma have revised their plans to ‘reflect the concerns raised’. They have also mobilized an army of people who think that wanton destruction of endangered species’ habitats is kinda cool. So despite the apparent battiness of the whole scheme this is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Living Lamma are organizing a petition and demonstration that will hopefully help to stop the madness. Click here to find out how.

There’s lots more on this on the excellent Lamma Forum.

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About Ricebowl Republic

Casting a snarky little eye over Hong Kong and our disappearing heritage. Selling stuff at www.ricebowlrepublic.com
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10 Responses to Baroque and a hard place

  1. Anant Deboor says:

    Terrific! Hong Kong’s developers aren’t just greedy and short-sighted, they’re pretty short on morals too, as we know. Am sharing this to publicise the issue. Thanks for a well-written piece.

  2. Roz Keep says:

    hi I don`t know who you are ricebowl but thanks for the excellent piece! I am sharing it on my facebook page. We organised the protest on Saturday. What a great crowd or eco warrior children we have on Lamma; they chanted Bol off Lamma for more than an hour and a half wearing Romers Tree Frog and turtle hats which pleased the public and caught people`s attention wonderfuly. Please check out http://www.livinglamma.com for details of how you can help before this Friday the 2nd Town Planning meeting. Thanks!
    Roz
    Living Lamma

  3. Roz Keep says:

    https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=10150500586458593&set=a.10150500584808593.428474.744013592&type=1&theater

    welcome to take a look at our photos of the Baroque OFF Lamma protest last Sat 26th Nov at the Central ferry Piers.

  4. Jo Wilson says:

    Fantastic article – many thanks from Living Lamma!!

  5. flippertie says:

    I particularly like the fact that the conflicted Mr. Cheng Yan-kee is a JP, A Justice of the Peace, a magistrate dedicated to the upholding of the law! Surely he’ll have no problem deciding on the right thing to do. No chance of money clouding his judgement is there?.

    I wish.

    • Apparently abstentions at Town Planning Board meetings are an all too common occurrence. It seems many members have vested interests in the issues their fellow board members are voting on. How on earth do they remain impartial when it’s their turn to vote? Guess we’ll find out on Friday…
      Greg

  6. Congratulations on your blog!
    Three times the SCMP refused to mention this conflict of interest when they covered the proposed plan for South Lamma. Shame on them… and many thanks to you for publicizing it. Living Lamma is sharing your post!

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