We were kept in the dark: harbour advisers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 12:00am

Committee members say they knew nothing of Wan Chai reclamation plans before they were released

The government was accused yesterday of manipulating its harbour advisory body by releasing new Wan Chai reclamation plans in the group's name without briefing its members.

Members of the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee were advised by e-mail just hours before the latest proposals to reclaim up to 25 hectares on the Wan Chai waterfront were revealed on Sunday.

They were told to check a government website for the details, which had not been discussed at any committee meeting.

Angry members of the committee - set up last year with the stated aim of involving the community in decisions about the harbour - held a crisis meeting last night with government officials over the release.

The Business Environment Council's representative on the committee, Paul Zimmerman, said he had been shocked by the news.

'We were unaware of the plans until very late. They weren't presented either at any of the committee or subcommittee meetings,' said Mr Zimmerman, who is also convenor of the Designing Hong Kong Harbour District group.

The plans were released on Sunday by Leung Kong-yui, chairman of the committee's Wan Chai development subcommittee.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, chairwoman of the Society for Protection of the Harbour and a committee member, said members knew nothing about the concept plans.

'It appears the government has manipulated the subcommittee. The plans were ... announced on Sunday so critical voices would find it hard to respond swiftly.'

Mr Leung said it was a misunderstanding and he did not feel manipulated by the government.

He said he was briefed by the government a few days ago about the three options for reclamation.

'What we released were just some technical data, which will not derail the process of engaging public opinion. The plans are aimed at stimulating public discussion,' said Mr Leung, who represents the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Hong Kong.

It is understood the full committee had only discussed in principle how the reclamation could proceed and how the public should be consulted. Mr Leung told the full committee at a meeting last Thursday that an 'information kit' would be made public on Sunday, without mentioning the concept plans.

The government's three proposals, to reclaim between 10 and 25 hectares of land, include options to build a tunnel, elevated road or surface highway along the waterfront to ease traffic congestion. The biggest reclamation proposed is just one hectare less than the plan that was quashed by the Court of Final Appeal last year.

'These concept plans showed the government is determined to reclaim Victoria Harbour in order to sell land for commercial purposes,' Ms Loh said.

The concept plans did not appear to have considered the Court of Final Appeal ruling that any reclamation must abide by the 'overriding public needs' principle, she added.

Secretary for Housing, Planning and Land Michael Suen Ming-yeung said the plans were preliminary ideas and would not necessarily be chosen by the government.

After last night's meeting, Mr Leung said the committee would hold a press conference soon to explain the matter.

Chaired by civil engineering professor Lee Chack-fan, the Harbour Enhancement Committee comprises six senior government officials and 23 members of green groups, business groups, interest groups and individuals.