Dock planners should plot course to Lantau

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 June, 1999, 12:00am

It seems sometimes that no one talking about where to build a cruise terminal knows how to look west instead of east along our shores.

Let's try it. What about a site near the proposed Disney Park on Lantau Island? Several advantages immediately stand out. First of all it would be near our airport, which would make it very convenient for the sort of fly and cruise tours which are increasingly in vogue and would help the under-used airport pay for itself with more passenger arrivals.

Then, of course, there is the Disney Park itself.

Both it and the cruise tours would have all the greater draw if it were possible for tourists to step straight off their ships and say hello to Mickey Mouse, assuming that is, that this is truly what makes life so fulfilling as Disney boosters think.

We would also have a great deal more space than in our already heavily constricted harbour at a time when public concern is building up over the danger that the harbour will be turned into a narrow sewage channel by all the development being proposed along its shoreline.

And then there is the consideration that the mega-ships, which are what the cruise industry wants and is now building, would not fit that easily into the harbour anyway.

We are talking here of 70,000 tonne vessels which need a depth of at least 30 feet of water at all times and a pier for each one of them of at least 1,000 feet in length. Try swinging one of those around in the harbour with a tide running and pleasure boats, ferries and ships of all description getting in the way.

The three front-runners for a cruise terminal at the moment, however, are sites in North Point, the end of the old Kai Tak runway and Wharf Holdings' existing terminal on Kowloon Point although several others have been outlined in a Hong Kong Tourism Association (HKTA) study.

The North Point site was earlier given the nod by Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his Budget speech in March although he did not disclose that developer Li Ka-shing was the backer, which is not surprising, given that at the same time he awarded Cyberport to Mr Li's son (also without saying who it was) and an open declaration of such a quinella might have proved embarrassing.

The North Point site is a dubious one. It is a somewhat rundown residential area far from any tourist centre and any terminal big enough to satisfy the dreams of cruise tour promoters would seriously obstruct what little remains of the eastern part of the harbour.

The Kai Tak site, favoured by Swire Pacific, might be a little better but, although more facilities could be built there and it would not obstruct the harbour so seriously, it is even further from tourist centres.

Kowloon Point is a much more central site but would probably have to be rebuilt at the tip of Western Reclamation.

It was previously thought the obvious choice except that planners now seem to have their doubts and no-one knows quite why.

Wharf cannot be too pleased with this but isn't saying much.

What should strike you about this, however, is that all the leading sites have a strong corporate affiliation.

Perhaps our choices of where to build a terminal are too heavily influenced by who is lobbying for them rather than where they should truly go.

It may also strike you that precious little work has yet gone into determining whether Hong Kong is truly such a cruise attraction.

All we have is a rather thin HKTA study based on outdated figures and which is mostly devoted to cruise boosting.

What else would you expect from the HKTA? But if we are to ignore such salient facts as that we have nothing but filthy harbours to offer cruise ship passengers for a thousand miles in any direction and that the only growth we have seen in the business is in gambling boats then let's at least pick the best site possible for a cruise terminal.

Lantau is the obvious one.