The art of spin

December 30th, 2010 atam Posted in Building, Climate change, Greenwash, Heritage | No Comments »

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was credited with inventing the art of spin – coating nasty government policies and actions in nice soundbites that deflect criticism long enough for opponents to run out of time to do anything about it.

“B-liar”, as he came to be known, may no longer be British Prime Minister, but when it comes to the art of spin he has no shortage of successors. Certainly in Hong Kong, where the government is deliberately slow in addressing important socio-economic issues such as the wealth gap, there is no lack of speed when it comes to spinning yarns to fool public opinion.

Two separate issues come to mind.

Thanks to the tenacity of our green NGOs, it has been discovered that the energy growth assumption that underpins the government’s climate change action agenda are inconsistent with current trends and poorly derived. According to the government-commissioned study, released after pressure from WWF, Friends of the Earth HK and Greenpeace, energy demand in Hong Kong will rise by 36.2% in 15 years even if the most aggressive emissions reduction plan is adopted. However, as the green groups pointed out, energy consumption in Hong Kong had risen only 6.3% between 1998 and 2008.

The government consultant’s justification for its estimate was that many low-cost solutions were not considered for Hong Kong because “they are not considered to be commercially viable within the necessary timeframe”. For that, read: “there isn’t the government will to implement the necessary regulatory and institutional changes because these will upset vested interests.”

No wonder the government argues we’ll need so much more nuclear energy, and this is the basis on which the “climate change action agenda” was drawn and a “public consultation” launched.

The other issue that amply illustrates the government’s command of the art of spin was its launch two years ago of the “Conserving Central” concept. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it is. Never mind the oddity of saving a long-dead, aesthetically suspect structure that once housed Central Market while steamrolling through the destruction of a living, breathing – nay, bustling – Graham Street market; it now also wants to streamroll through the destruction of Government Hill – the only intact heritage precinct in Central – by selling part of Central Government Offices to developers.

Handsome literature and models have been prepared to persuade the public that this is part of its heritage conservation plans rather than another scheme to please the real estate lobby: it already envisages the development of a five-storey shopping mall and 32-storey office tower in place of the existing West Wing.

Apparently when conservation consultants recommended preservation of the whole precinct, which also covers St John’s Cathedral and the court buildings, it was the consultants’ recognition of the fact that West Wing was of little architectural merit that the government seized on as its justification for selling a chunk of the site to developers.  It may want to persuade the public that the old and new can coexist, but who would want Marine Police Headquarters Mark II?

People are opposed not only because they want to conserve the historical site in its entirety in order to maintain its context, but also because, for once, they can see through the spin and are not amused. Click here to read the petition against the redevelopment of Government Hill.

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