- Petition launched over what concern group sees as flaws in key ruling on hospital plans in historic Sheng Kung Hui compound
- Lawmaker questions why another private hospital is needed on Hong Kong Island, where several medical sites are operating below capacity
A concern group has challenged a watchdog's "black box" decision to relax height limits on the Hong Kong Anglican Church's proposed new hospital in Central.
The Town Planning Board shot down in May a government proposal to lower the height limit on the church's new building on its Bishop's House compound, which is earmarked for one of the most historic parts of the city.
The board instead raised the limit to 135 metres (443 feet), equivalent to the 25-storey private hospital building the church " known locally as Sheng Kung Hui " planned to build.
The Government Hill Concern Group, which had previously tried to foil the proposals by filing a separate application to rezone the compound, said on Thursday it had started a petition to demand the board reconsider its decision to relax the height limit.
"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," said Katty Law Ngar-ning, convenor of the group.
"This will destroy the heritage environment on Government Hill and Bishop Hill while also bringing huge traffic disruption," said Law.
She cited minutes of the board's meeting in May, which showed two members queried whether the board was too lax in its handling of the church's application.
In one example raised by the two members, planning officers discovered there was no transport impact assessment despite the planning process being at an advanced stage.
The Sheng Kung Hui compound, often referred to as Bishop Hill, includes four heritage buildings constructed between 1845 and 1919.
It sits within one of Hong Kong's most historic areas, which has increasingly become a magnet for tourists. The proposed project has drawn a huge public backlash for fear it may ruin the atmospheric streetscape.
Central hospital plan clears hurdle after lower height limit rejected
Government Hill refers to the former government headquarters, which escaped a demolition plan amid public pressure to preserve it.
The church had not responded to the South China Morning Post's request for comment.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said she was concerned when she heard about the plan.
"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.
Referring to what she saw as opaque decision-making, Chan added: "The town planning board should be to provide professional guidance on land use, instead of just making decisions based on proposed developments.
"This will give people the impression of 'black box' proceedings."
The concern group also questioned the need for yet another private hospital on Hong Kong Island, where six out of 12 private hospitals in the city are located.
Canossa Hospital, just up the hill from the Sheng Kung Hui Church, was operating at 37 per cent capacity in 2017, while Matilda International Hospital in The Peak was at 35.6 per cent that year.
"The Town Planning Board should reconsider if there is really the need for a hospital here," said lawmaker Chan.
Does Anglican Church hospital plan put real estate over religion?
The church's hospital proposal is in the midst of a two-month public consultation by the board that is to end on July 24.
If given the green light, the hospital would provide 293 beds, 12 operating theatres and 90 car parking spaces by 2024.
A spokeswoman for the Planning Department said it welcomed any objections from the public during the consultation period.
"We also explained the plan at the Central and Western District Council meeting earlier this month, so we are still gathering opinion from all sectors," she said.
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