Harbour group outlines grand plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 12:00am

Environmentalists say their vision is to produce a waterfront to rival those of Sydney and Singapore

Environmentalists yesterday outlined a vision for Victoria Harbour of promenades, a musical fountain and a harbourside entertainment precinct, as they warned that the fight to protect the waterfront from alternative projects resulting in reclamation may not be over yet.

More than $30 billion of future reclamation projects hangs in the balance after a landmark ruling in the High Court on Tuesday found any further depletion of the harbour had to be justified by 'compelling, overriding public need'.

Conservationists and developers now face a nervous wait to see if the government will appeal against the decision.

Winston Chu Ka-sun, chairman of the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, yesterday hailed the finding by Madam Justice Carlye Chu Fun-ling as a 'triumph' and a 'victory for the people of Hong Kong'. His group had brought the case to oppose a Wan Chai reclamation project.

'The survival of the harbour depended on this case,' said Mr Chu.

The retired lawyer said it would protect Victoria Harbour from being turned into a river.

'Prior to the ordinance there was no law protecting the harbour, the government could reclaim whatever they liked,' he said. 'Now they have to demonstrate a 'compelling public need' before they go ahead and reclaim more land.'

Mr Chu admits there is a high possibility the government will challenge the ruling.

He said Hong Kong should have a waterfront that rivals those of Singapore and Sydney.

And he called for the creation of an independent authority to protect Victoria Harbour, similar to the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

His comments came with the release of the society's sweeping plan for a continuous promenade running from Causeway Bay to Central. Under the plan, the foreshore could include a musical fountain, tree-lined parks, a waterside performance stage, a Hong Kong-themed entertainment precinct with shops, restaurants, cafes, a naval and cruise ship dock and a marina precinct with floating restaurants.

'It could be something beautiful,' said Mr Chu.

'It could be a place of which Hong Kong people could be proud.

'It could be people-friendly, not polluted and not the big mess of dirt or cargo working areas which is what we have now.'

Vice-chairman of the society, Christine Loh Kung-wai, greeted Tuesday's result with a mixture of apprehension and joy. 'It is always good to win,' she said. 'But now the government has to read the judgment carefully and decide whether it is going to appeal.

'Of course, I hope they will not challenge it and [instead] accept the ruling. But if they do, we are prepared to go the highest courts to get a clear ruling on this matter.

'We want there to be a much higher level of care in the reclamation process.'

A spokesman for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority yesterday said they had not yet spoken to Hong Kong authorities about the work of an independent 'harbour' authority.

'But if we were talking to them we would be discussing how important it is to try to build a vision,' the spokesman said.

'We would also stress how important it is to have co-operation between government authorities and stakeholders to ensure the vision is delivered.'

He said the Sydney authority had focused on making the harbour 'people-friendly'. 'Obviously it is a beautiful harbour but the general population also has a sense of ownership and must work to preserve the water quality by not polluting it with rubbish.

'As a result of Clean Up Australia Day there has been a growing awareness and the return of sea-life that had not been seen for many years, including whales.' He said they also ran Sydney Harbour Week each March to celebrate the waterway. It includes events such as surfboard races, kayaking and a cross-harbour swim.