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Look to the future: The changing face of Discovery Bay

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For years the development of DB has polarised opinion and today is no different with residents quick to share their thoughts. Sam Agars reports.

High-rise apartments, lowrise living, a new bus terminus and footbridge are all developments in the pipeline for Discovery Bay, with the latest improvement works following a long line of projects undertaken since the resort opened in the 1980s.

We chat to a group of long-time and prominent DBers to get their take on the plans for the future, while also getting an insight into how DB has changed in their time here.

The making of DB

While it may seem that the predominant attitude towards DB’s expansion is a negative, most residents have at least something positive to say, whether looking to the past or future.

City Owners’ Committee (COC) member Dr Francis Chiu, who has lived in DB since 2009, highlights the trade off of tranquillity for convenience. “In terms of change, in the last few years I have witnessed more convenience, that is the positive side,” he says. “The negative side in comparing today to seven years ago, we can see a lot of visitors coming to DB, which is making the tropical paradise less of a paradise.”

Photographer Baljit Gidwani moved to DB in 1985 and he is equally nostalgic about the good old days. But he is realistic about the progress he has seen and is confident DB would not be the place it is today without the work done by Hong Kong Resorts (HKR).

“It’s all the progress and all the infrastructure that HKR has done that makes DB liveable, that makes it the place it is,” Baljit says. “People moaned like mad when the tunnel was built and there was uproar when they said they were going to let taxis in. But every step HKR has taken, everybody now loves and uses and can’t imagine life without. They were protesting for nothing. In the end, change is necessary.”

The great unknown

For many, it is the lack of clarity moving forward that is most worrisome, with the initial cap of 25,000 residents seemingly set to be ignored by developers. Sixteenyear DB resident Colin Bosher, COC member and chairman of La Vista Village Owners Committee (VOC), feels that homeowners in DB are getting a “raw deal” because they bought into a “low-density, pleasant development”.

“The government is not transparent, the developer is not transparent,” Colin says. “It appears that there is no limit on the amount of development. You look at the OZP (Outline Zoning Plan) and it says 25,000 people, but it turns out that figure is actually meaningless because 25,000 is just how much water the Water Supplies Department said it could provide. So then the developer turns around and simply opts to build a new water treatment plant and a new sewage treatment plant.”

Colin believes the planned N1 North development near Chianti will be enough to tip the DB population – which currently stands at around 18,000 – over 25,000, even before the housing developments at Nim Shue Wan and behind Parkvale Village are taken into account.

Amy Yung, DB’s representative on the Islands District Council, is also concerned about DB’s population count, as well as the endeavours of HKR to attract tourists. “We want tranquillity, a quality of life, that is why we move to Discovery Bay,” she says. “But during the holidays and weekends, I can see there are special activities that attract a lot of people from outside, and some of the residents complain they have to wait in long queues in order to come home or get out of Discovery Bay.”

Paula Lepore Burrough has been in DB since 1999, is on the VOC for Parkvale Village and runs popular Facebook group DB Matters. She can see both positives and negatives about what lies ahead, but wishes HKR gave residents more chance to have a say about the future of their home.

“People would be so much more engaged and excited if they were part of the process, but they [HKR] are not making things transparent and they are not addressing the concerns from the residents,” she says. “People actually want to work with them. The reality is that we can’t stop them building, so how can we make it so that it is a great place for all?”

In the pipeline

HKR is confident that its 10-year development programme for DB will improve residents’ living standards and maintain the resort’s sustainability. “Over the past 30-plus years, every decade we introduce some new elements to the community,” a spokesperson told Around DB back in April last year. “We are trying to uplift and add more energy to the overall DB community.”

In the second part of its development programme, which is still at the government submission stage, HKR is looking to redevelop Nim Shue Wan waterfront and build a residential development on a small parcel of land behind Parkvale Village. Actual works on these projects, if approved, could be as far as eight years away.

“For the area behind Parkvale Village, I really cannot see how anyone would think that it is a good idea,” Francis comments. “First of all, it is too close to the existing development and road access is going to be a big problem.

“For the area near Nim Shue Wan, I think there are upsides and downsides,” Francis adds. “The upside is the fact that right now if you go to one of those high-rise buildings in Peninsula Village and look down on Kai To Pier, it is a really grotty area. The development, if it is going to be done according to what has been said, will make it look a lot nicer for those high-rise residents whose views will not be blocked by the buildings. Of course, if your apartment will be completely blocked by the new building, I’m sure you will not like it.”

Opinion is split on the bus terminus works, scheduled to begin in early 2017, with some feeling its planned expansion and repositioning is a good thing and others questioning its necessity. The prospect of more shops, beneath the new terminus, also sees residents divided. Again there is the trade off of tranquillity (a reduced community feel) for convenience (more shopping opportunities).

“I really don’t know why they are building more shops,” Francis says. “Right now, you can see there are already empty shops. We assume that HKR wants to get as much rental income as possible from the commercial developments, but I don’t think they will actually get more in the future. When there are more shops, and probably more empty shops, they will probably have to lower the rent instead of raising it.”

Backing HKR, Baljit is much more optimistic about all that lies ahead. “They almost went bust building this place, so surely they have a right to continue its growth,” he says. “And they have continued the growth in a very organised manner. Every village, except for the Greens, has many green spaces. So DB grows but in a civilised, liveable manner.”

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