Wooden boards have been put up in public areas at Hong Kong housing estate Tin Ma Court, leading residents – who suspect demolition works – to confront a local pro-Beijing politician accusing him of inaction.
Since ownership of the estate’s public facilities changed hands last year, residents have alleged poor management as escalators were not repaired, plants were not watered, and rats were left to roam.
Amid unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the new landlord, Vantage International Holdings, residents formed groups and staged protests in early April and early May. However, their actions were criticised by Liberal Party district councillor Chan On-tai as a “political struggle.”
Tuesday evening’s confrontation started when construction workers put up wooden boards around the Tin Ma Court shopping mall’s iconic “flying horse” statue. The workers told residents they received orders to demolish the statue at a later date.
“Boards have been put up around many of the shop units as well,” a spokesperson of the resident concern group Alliance Saving Tin Ma Court told HKFP.
“The fire risks are making residents very worried,” added the spokesperson. “We don’t know what the landlord wants to do.”
Accusations of inaction
District councillor Chan was in the shopping mall on Tuesday collecting letters from residents asking the landlord to repair two broken escalators. However, residents claimed that he ignored what was happening around him.
When reporters from SocRec asked him why wooden boards were being put up, Chan responded: “You should ask the property management company.”
“This district councillor did not help with anything at all,” the alliance’s spokesperson told HKFP. “It is extremely disgraceful.”
After several residents began gathering and criticising him for inaction, police officers were called to the scene. Chan packed up his belongings and departed.
Residents said that neither landlord Vantage nor property management company Guardian – part of the London-based Savills Group – explained their plans publicly.
Last month, Chan organised a briefing session attended by Guardian – but not Vantage – on a Tuesday afternoon. It met with opposition from almost 2,000 residents, who signed a petition demanding another session in the evenings or the weekends, when they are not at work.
At the meeting, a Guardian spokesperson explained certain changes in facility management – such as not watering plants because soil needed to be removed in order to solve problems of water leaking down to the floors below.
After residents set up tents and signs in protest earlier this month, Guardian’s deputy manager arrived with other personnel trying to clear the demonstration, sparking a standoff that eventually dispersed peacefully.
Shop owners told HKFP during a visit last month that landlord Vantage refused to extend their shop leasing contracts, while Guardian increased property management fees by some 44 per cent.
Built in 1986, Tin Ma Court is a home ownership estate originally managed by the Hong Kong Housing Authority. The government allocated the estate’s public facilities to listed private property trust Link REIT in 2004, but the trust sold the facilities to Hong Kong-listed Vantage in 2016.
Vantage, Guardian and councillor Chan have not responded to HKFP’s requests for comment at the time of publication.