Pier pressure and the route to harmony
Let me start by congratulating the community for its civic spirit, for its perseverance in the face of many obstacles, and for making sure that there is now a commitment to preserve both the Star Ferry Clock Tower and Queen's Pier. If not for the efforts and hard work of Hongkongers, these historic landmarks would have vanished forever.
The decision to demolish and then rebuild Queen's Pier is one of cost - HK$50 million is the price. Working around the structure, while leaving it intact, would be more complicated and significantly more expensive - upwards of HK$130 million.
Therefore, in financial terms - and however much we object to even a temporary removal of the pier - we could agree that its careful storage and reassembly was financially reasonable.
The value of Queen's Pier is not so much in the structure but in the setting and the place. It is a landmark of Hong Kong's history. The centrepoint of the pier lines up with the centrepoint of the main entrance to City Hall, forming the north and south edges of Edinburgh Place. Together, these sites have been the venue for arrivals of dignitaries and other grand events.
In line with the 'Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China', all efforts must be made to ensure Queen's Pier is reassembled in its original location. To do so will require: changing the plan of P2 - a six-lane highway from the Airport Express station past the Convention and Exhibition Centre to join existing roads - and building a provision for the future MTR tunnel.
Part of the land reserved for the P2 highway, about 40 metres by 20 metres, is taken up by Queen's Pier. The solution is to move the road north by 20 metres or to reduce its width to 20 metres, which is sufficient for a dual carriageway. This can be achieved by scrapping the turning pockets and central reserve. This will reduce the P2 highway's capacity slightly, but that may not be a problem before completion of all the planned Central developments.
At some future stage, the MTR Corporation will need to build a tunnel to increase the frequency of the Airport Express railway in line with the growing number of tourists, visitors and residents. The tunnel is also needed for an extension of the Tung Chung line to Fortress Hill, to alleviate the growing congestion on the harbour crossing and existing island line.
The alignment of the MTR tunnel is close to where Queen's Pier is today, and various technical constraints rule out the possibility of changing its position. Therefore, to avoid taking down the pier and rebuild it twice in the original position, we could either wait a long time, or design and build a provision - a skeleton tunnel - for the MTR first.
Building such a tunnel provision now would be wise for many reasons. The new MTR lines, with stops along the harbourfront at Tamar and the convention centre, would reduce traffic demand on the P2 highway. This means the road could be smaller. In turn, it would make it easier to maintain Queen's Pier in situ and improve the harbourfront.
More importantly, ripping open the new Central waterfront and the P2 highway, to build the MTR tunnel later, would cause major disruption and would add between HK$1 billion and HK$2 billion to the cost.
Plans for Central Reclamation Phase III, and related works, date back to the metropolitan proposal developed in the 1980s. There have been several changes to take in the reduction in reclamation, yet the road plans have hardly altered. What we have learned is the need for flexibility and continuous improvement.
In many ways, it's like the father who builds a house or renovates a flat. His refusal to accept input from his wife and children will result in a dysfunctional home. And refusing to adjust plans based on new information will result in a home that simply does not work for the family.
Paul Zimmerman is convenor of Designing Hong Kong Harbour District