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An aerial view of the site boundary of Johnston Road redevelopment project.
A row of four Cantonese terrace-style buildings at Johnson Road will be refurbished and redesigned for commercial use with fashion and lifestyle.

URA sets milestone in Wan Chai

Regeneration of century-old Wan Chai takes a big step forward today (Monday) as the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) commences demolition work of its first redevelopment project of $917 million worth at Johnston Road.

The 22,200-square-foot site at the junction of Johnston Road and Ship Street is the first site successfully cleared since the URA launched its urban renewal programme in March 2002.

Today, a group of nostalgic but smiling former residents returned to the site and joined hands with URA officials to perform a ceremony for the demolition of the old buildings to make way for residential and commercial development.

But not all the buildings are to be demolished. The URA has decided to preserve five pre-war buildings with special character, including a row of four Cantonese terrace-style buildings in Johnston Road and a four-storey shophouse building in Ship Street. They will be refurbished and redesigned for commercial use with fashion and lifestyle.

Managing Director of the URA, Mr Billy Lam, concedes that clearance of the site has been a new and trying experience for the organisation apart from making compensation to the building owners and the tenants.

"Compensation was not the only important consideration. Equally important was how we dealt with the human problems by helping the residents, especially the elderly, single parents and the disabled, to find new and better homes and settle down as smoothly as possible," he said.

"Furthermore, we were putting to test a completely new system and procedure for land assembly, and there were inevitably numerous teething problems.

"At the end of the day, it was a partnership spirit between us and the residents that has seen us through the entire the operation smoothly within 18 months, which is well ahead of our 24-month target," he said.

"We are fully aware that land acquisition necessarily gives rise to a lot of family and human problems. Therefore, we have commissioned a professional social service team of the Methodist Centre to work side by side with our frontline staff to provide counselling and practical assistance to the residents.

"Assistance was offered to address specific problems ranging from searching for new flats and applying for a bridging loan to house-moving chores and re-uniting with relatives from the Mainland.

"Through the process, some residents and our frontline staff and social workers have actually become friends with each other. That is why we have invited them back today to witness this milestone occasion," Mr Lam said.

"The Johnston Road project has given us very valuable experience in how best to implement a people-oriented approach and strive for a partner relationship with residents in all other projects to follow including the latest one, Lee Tung Street project which is also in Wan Chai," he added.

Altogether, the URA acquired 105 property interests at the site with 92% of them by voluntary transactions and the rest by land resumption. It also cared for 112 tenanted households by offering them public housing units or cash compensation.

The URA aims to use the Johnston Road site redevelopment together with similar projects in the area to regenerate the Wan Chai old town as a new precinct of quality residential, leisure, shopping and commercial activities with preservation of local and historic character.

When completed in 2007, the site will provide about 344 new flats and about 28,000 square feet of retail floor space. Revitalisation design for Ship Street adjacent to the site and Tai Wong Street West within the site will be taken into consideration.

Since March 2002, the URA has launched 11 redevelopment projects with a total investment portfolio of $9.78 billion. In addition, two more have been undertaken in association with the Hong Kong Housing Society.