Secretary for Development Mrs Carrie Lam offered a mea culpa of sorts when she explained the discrepancy between the government’s estimate of the gross floor area at the former Marine Police Headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui and the developer’s estimate.
In effect, she was blaming the government itself for making an estimate that turned out to be quite a bit lower than the GFA on which the subsequent development was based. But of course, she did qualify her explanation by saying that the figure mentioned in the subsequent tender document “was believed to have come from the figure mentioned in the planning brief”.
So was it the government’s fault, or did the developer play a trick? Doesn’t matter: to forestall any similar grilling by LegCo in the future, Mrs Lam said the government would simply avoid providing any figure in the first place.
“In future, in order to avoid misunderstanding, if the Government is to adopt this type of unique development mode again, that is preserving, restoring and revitalising existing buildings of historical value, and it involves the participation of the private sector through tender in the preservation and development of historical buildings, it may not be appropriate for the Government to provide an estimated GFA figure of these buildings in the tender document. The reason is that the GFA of the existing building to be preserved will not change and the tenderers can survey or assess the space of the existing buildings themselves,” she said.
In one sense, this is fair enough: the GFA of the original buildings isn’t going to change. But given the track record of Hong Kong’s developers, should they be trusted to provide an accurate GFA figure?
But that’s not the only problem. Perhaps more worrying is what Mrs Lam said about the vetting procedure for this project: “the tender scoring criteria placed more emphasis on the technical proposal, including whether the proposal could achieve the heritage preservation and restoration objectives, the conservation of the surrounding environment and layout of the historical buildings, whether the proposed development concept was creative, the feasibility of the proposal and its tourism and economic benefits, the tenderers’ experience in heritage conservation and heritage tourism projects, etc. Based on the various criteria mentioned above, the assessment panel gave every tender a score and an overall assessment in examining, analysing and selecting the tenders submitted.”
And the technical weighting, according to Mrs Lam, was 75% of the tender evaluation, against 25% for the price.
Now, folks, how do you rate the “revitalisation” of the Marine Police HQ on heritage preservation, conservation (!) of the surrounding environment, creativity/kitschiness and the tenderers’ track record of treating a heritage project with respect?
Either the other tenders were so atrocious that the winning bid actually looked good in the assessors’ eyes, or there was something seriously wrong with the experience, taste and appropriate qualifications the assessors brought to bear on the tender evaluation. And if they could make the kind of judgement that has bequeathed Hong Kong 1881 Heritage, what’s there to prevent them – or the government’s appointment of them or those like them – from passing the same judgement on submissions for other heritage projects in the future?
That’s a bigger concern. If only the councillors aren’t so short-sighted.