Sai Kung’s progress report

11/2009. Hong Kong, ChinaWith Sai Kung already packed at weekends, Hazel Knowles seeks an update on the projects that will bring in yet more people.

It’s midday on a sunny Sunday and Sai Kung is heaving. The car parks are full, but a slow-moving trail of cars and buses continues to snake down Hiram’s Highway, bottlenecking at the Ho Chung traffic lights. In town, minibuses drop off more day-trippers every few minutes, and it’s standing-room only on the no.94 bus to Wong Shek Pier. The seafood restaurants are doing great business and dog walkers are promenading proudly on the waterfront. In the supermarkets, shoppers are queuing five or six deep.

“The situation is getting out of control,” one resident complains. “The car parks are often full and, on Sundays, there are hundreds of illegally parked cars, with few or no tickets being given. My family tries to avoid Sai Kung at weekends because of the thousands of visitors.”

There could be worse to come. In another five or 10 years, another 1,000 or so people will be living in the new Sino Land development at Sha Kok Mei, with many more in new village houses springing up all over Sai Kung.

Tourist numbers also look set to rise, with Sai Kung being pushed as “a tourism gateway” in the draft Sai Kung Town Outline Zoning Plan approved last year. If construction goes to schedule, a planned waterfront hotel opposite the new Hong Kong Academy will sleep more than 500 guests in 250 rooms. An additional 32 rooms are almost ready for visitors at the old Beach Resort Hotel and a boutique hotel under construction at

Pak Sha Wan will have another 40 room once completed.

IMG_7621_RTAll this development is great news for local businesses, some of which are doing a roaring trade, according to Friends of Sai Kung (FSK). The group also acknowledges that the boom is attracting more varied shops and restaurants and has spurred a revival of parts of the old town. However, it fears that development could rob Sai Kung of its charm and character. Chief among those concerns is the volume of traffic and whether the proposed upgrade of Hiram’s Highway, which will see sections made into a dual carriageway, will be a solution or just make matters worse. FSK is pessimistic that rampant development is in danger of overloading Sai Kung’s infrastructure and sending the rental values of residential and commercial properties spiralling out of the reach of locals.

“Sai Kung used to be a place where people chose to live because it was cheaper than other areas near the city and for the quiet lifestyle,” said an FSK spokesperson.

“In the past five to 10 years many wealthier people have chosen to buy retirement houses in the area for the lifestyle. But the influx is inflating property prices and rents, threatening the very thing that attracted them in the first place,” he said.

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Sai Kung District Officer Maureen Siu Mo-lin said that, although she was happy to see growing numbers of visitors and families making Sai Kung home, it was inevitable that this would be accompanied by development. However, she stressed government departments were working together “to ensure that infrastructure and facilities are sufficient and not excessive, and put in place in time to support the community”. Siu, who was born and raised in Sai Kung, said: “I have strong feelings for Sai Kung. The small-town environ of old Sai Kung town is unique. Sai Kung is a gem. It is our natural heritage that we should forever treasure and protect.” She said a number of infrastructure projects were already in the pipeline, including improvements to Hiram’s Highway, the development of a new-town piazza and sports complex near the Tang Shiu Kin Sports Ground, improvements to the existing pier, and a new visitor centre at the waterfront park. Changes to bus routes and the creation of cycling lanes were also being considered. However, all that will take time. As Easter approaches and businesses prepare for another busy holiday, residents are left pondering whether to face the hustle and hassle of town, stay at home, or get away from it all – out of Sai Kung.

 

What’s going on?

There’s so much construction going on in Sai Kung that some people joke the whole town is to be declared a hard-hat area. However, providing information to the community appears to be a low priority for the companies involved in the construction projects: they are exceptionally reluctant to give out information on the developments that will shape the town’s future. Here’s our update on what they will – and won’t – say.

 

The Beach Resort Hotel

The last guests checked out of the old Beach Resort Hotel more than 12 years ago and since then the property has changed hands three times, with the latest change-over taking place in February.

Reports claim the new owner bought the three-storey hotel for $190 million from New World Development Company; that’s $110 million more than the purchase price seven years ago. A spokesperson for New World Development declined to reveal details of the buyer, saying: “It is not convenient to disclose this information.”

The resort was once an integral part of Sai Kung life, with tennis courts, a popular outdoor pool on the waterfront and a Thai restaurant. In 2003, when property prices dipped following the outbreak of SARS, it was bought by Urban Entertainment, headed by Australian Brad Gotfried, for just $28 million. At the time, Gotfried – who also brought Xtreme (now Agua Plus) to Sai Kung – planned to turn it into a Hawaiian-themed resort.

That never happened and in 2007 Urban Entertainment sold it for $78.5 million as a derelict shell to Billion Earn International, a private company that lists several New World Development Company executives as directors and is registered at the same address. It has been renovated at an on-off pace ever since.

Today, the hotel also known as The Surf Hotel, looks pretty much ready for business with the higher floors displaying curtains and lamps, but the mystery over the new buyer has left many questioning whether it will ever open in this game of pass the parcel by property speculators.

 

The Cheer Regal hotel

Occupying a prime spot on the seafront, opposite Hong Kong Academy, this new hotel development has been described as being just what Sai Kung needs. The land was sold with planning permission for a 500-room hotel in October 2011 to Cheer Regal Ltd, whose directors include TVB non-executive director Dr Charles Chan Kwok-keung and Shaw Brothers executive Raymond Chan Wai-man. At the time, the company would say only that it hoped to open a hotel in four or five years. That schedule now seems somewhat ambitious given that the site, although cleared and fenced off, is still a blank canvas. Requests to talk to Cheer Regal’s directors about the hotel were turned down.

 

Sha Kok Mei apartments

Initial work has begun on 240 apartments to be built in eight-storey blocks near the Sha Kok Mei roundabout. Two cranes and heavy construction vehicles swung into action a few months ago after the site was bought by Sino Land for $1.46 million.

When Sai Kung Magazine called the telephone number on the huge banner advertising “A home above it all” on Tai Mong Tsai Road, we were told it was still early days.

“We are now preparing our sales brochure, which will give a full picture and also applying for consent from the government to sell the units before they are complete,” a Sino Land spokesman said. “But we have no details yet and our sales schedule will probably start next year.”

 

Pak Sha Wan boutique hotel

Planning permission was granted in 2011 for a 40-room boutique hotel close to the Pak Sha Wan pier. Work is still in its early stages. In its January digest, the Buildings Department acknowledged it had received notification of work commencing on the general building and superstructure of this three-storey hotel.

According to the notification the application came from a company called Colhi Investments.However, our attempts to track down the company turned up no results.

 

Pak Kong golf course and Tai Po Tsai

News that a golf course was under construction above Tai Chung Hau Road has been greeted with excitement by golf lovers.

A crane moved on to the site behind KK Horticulture more than a year ago. In October the company behind the project, Hip Seng Construction, was reborn as New World Construction Company, “a wholly-owned subsidiary of NWS Holdings Limited, the infrastructure and service flagship of New World Development Company Limited”. The same company is also behind the residential development near the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology at Tai Po Tsai, Clearwater Bay – and, of course, the renovation of the Beach Resort Hotel.

When asked about the golf course and the Tai Po Tsai development, a New World Development spokeswoman said only that further information would be provided “in due course”. But, inevitably, not now.

 

The road well travelled

Nicknamed the “highway to hell”, Hiram’s Highway could hold the key to whether Sai Kung can cope with this expansion.

The government’s Hiram’s Highway Improvement project is in two stages, only the first of which has been approved. Stage 1 includes widening the top section near the junction with Clearwater Bay Road, improving access to Ho Chung and building a dual carriageway outside Marina Cove (as far as Pak Wei, near the Hing Keng Shek turnoff).

Stage 2, which has not been approved, proposes a dual carriageway from Pak Wei to the roundabout near Sha Ha beach.

Friends of Sai Kung has been vocal in its objections to the plan. A spokesperson said it was not against the “sensible” widening of the upper section and improving access to Ho Chung. However, the group believed the planned dual carriageways would cause disruption, environmental damage and inconvenience pedestrians.

Instead it urged planners to create more laybys for buses, access lanes at junctions, park-and-ride schemes and to pedestrianise the town centre at weekends and holidays.

With a lack of consensus on the way forward, it is likely to be years before the journey to Sai Kung gets any smoother.

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