Cruise control

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 June, 1999, 12:00am

Nothing, it seems, will dampen the determination of Cheung Kong to build a cruise terminal on government land at North Point.

Not tentative government plans for an alternative site in Kai Tak, nor statistics which show that the existing terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui is only operating at 25 per cent capacity. Not even the recent 10-year deal that rival Wharf has signed with Asia's largest operator, Star Cruises; nor environmental claims that half a million cubic metres of contaminated mud with high levels of cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, zinc and raw sewage will have to be dredged and dumped into special disposal pits before construction can begin.

Having gained official approval for the plan as far back as March, when it surfaced in Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's Budget speech with a formal announcement that the Town Planning Board had agreed to change the zoning of the area, the company run by Victor Li Tzar-kuoi is obviously encouraged by such strong signals of official support, and is now pressing ahead with a 'project profile' in preparation for an environmental impact assessment.

But controversy over the application ranges from environmental concerns to the increasingly familiar complaint of cronyism.

If a second cruise terminal is to become a reality, in North Point or anywhere else, it is important that all decisions affecting it are open and transparent, taken solely in the public interest, and that contracts are put out to tender, to ensure a level playing field.

With three such plans in the offing, as well as Wharf's scheme for an 'architectural uplifting' of Ocean Terminal, it seems clear that developing cruise facilities is a popular idea.

The cruise operators appear to think so, and despite the under-use of present facilities - because they are overpriced and outdated, according to clients - there may be a case to be made for more piers to accommodate the ever larger liners being brought into service.

The tourism and leisure sectors are major growth industries and a modern terminal would certainly attract more ships to call; but it must be built with minimum disruption to the harbour, and following procedures which are absolutely open and above board.