No reason for more delays

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

Critics of the government's plans to relocate its headquarters to the Tamar harbourfront site have accomplished nothing, except to stall the project.

The Tamar project was planned as early as 2000, but was suddenly shelved by the then chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, in 2003 because of the Sars outbreak. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen relaunched the development when he became chief executive last year.

To meet public aspirations, the plans were greatly refined: office sizes were reduced and two hectares set aside as civic grounds connected to the waterfront promenade.

The government also promised the Democratic Party that it would preserve the old trees outside the existing headquarters and restrict the height of the new offices.

The project is meant to solve the shortage of office space for the Secretariat and the Legislative Council, and make them more efficient - currently, these offices are scattered around different locations. It will also create jobs for the construction sector, and become an iconic landmark.

Despite the general support of the public and major political parties, some are still stirring trouble in a last-ditch attempt to derail Tamar, which is going to be approved by the Finance Committee next week.

I fully supported the Tamar project right from the beginning. I also suggested that the government should consider a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the entire Central district, including the site of its existing headquarters.

This would not only bring tremendous land-sales revenue to the government, but also give the city a new look.

Former High Court judge Simon Li Fook-sean and harbour activist Winston Chu Ka-sun have publicly voiced their opposition to the Tamar project on the following grounds: first, the interests of the public are overlooked because the Tamar site belongs to the public and should not be used to accommodate the government's staff alone. Second, spending $5.1 billion on it is a waste of public funds.

Third, the new complex will aggravate traffic congestion and air pollution in Central.

But it is unfair to say the new offices are only for government staff, because they will provide many services for the public. The site will also house the Executive Council and Legco.

It will become the centre for protests and rallies, and provide public recreation space. The government, though, should have highlighted the civic-core concept from the very beginning.

Tamar will not be a waste of public funds, as the existing headquarters site will sell for up to $10 billion, more than covering the cost of the new offices.

If the project were scrapped, the business sector would force the government to sell the precious Tamar site for commercial use. That would result in more colossal buildings on the waterfront and worsen pollution in the area.

Further, the current government offices are in the heart of Central, where traffic congestion and air pollution are already serious. With careful planning, the move to Tamar may be the solution to those problems.

Even on the mainland, world-renowned architects have been invited to design iconic buildings: for example, the Beijing Olympic stadium by Herzog and deMeuron, and the CCTV headquarters by Rem Koolhaas.

The Tamar government headquarters should be developed into a modern icon that not only serves the best interests of the public, but is also an object of pride for Hongkongers.

Critics of the Tamar development have yet to realise that image is important when it comes to government headquarters in an international city like Hong Kong.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a directly elected legislator