Planners face harbour rail, road rethink

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am

Ruling on reclamation accepted

The government has announced it will not fight a court ruling that temporary reclamation is covered by a law protecting the harbour.

The Protection of the Harbour Ordinance bars reclamation unless there is overriding public need.

The government must now either demonstrate the temporary reclamation in Causeway Bay to build the Central-Wan Chai bypass meets that criterion, or come up with alternative plans for building it. The Sha Tin-Central rail link may also be delayed as a result of the ruling.

Experts say demonstrating an overriding public need for the work will require a fresh round of public consultation. That could take years, said one expert, Greg Wong Chak-yan - a former MTR tunnelling engineer and a government adviser on harbour developments.

A Transport and Housing Bureau spokesman said: 'We respect the judgment of the Court of First Instance on the judicial review lodged by the Society for Protection of the Harbour. After careful consideration, we have decided not to appeal against the ruling.

'Having regard to the wider public interest, we shall implement the project as early as practicable and in accordance with the ruling.'

A spokeswoman added: 'In view of the court ruling, implementation of the cross-harbour section of the [MTR's] Sha Tin to Central link may be affected ... the [MTR Corporation] will ... investigate if there are alternative construction methods for the [cross-harbour rail tunnels].'

The court ruling concerns a plan to temporarily reclaim 10.7 hectares in and around the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter to facilitate construction of the bypass, due for completion in 2016.

A map prepared by the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, based on government plans for the bypass, shows two rail tunnels would run directly underneath the temporary reclamation and below a tunnel beneath the typhoon shelter through which the bypass would run.

It is because of this that completion of the HK$37 billion rail link, due in 2019, may be delayed.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, the chief executive of think-tank Civic Exchange, who is a member of the society, was critical of the government.

'If I were the chief executive I would want to look into this. The government ought to come clean on who is responsible for the decision [to base] two major infrastructure projects on a speculative notion that temporary reclamation is not reclamation in law,' she said.

The society has called on Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to hold an official inquiry into the reasons for the delay to the bypass.

Dr Wong, the former MTR engineer, said: 'They will probably look at the [bypass] design again to see if they can cut the amount of reclamation so as to show more clearly to the public that whatever they propose is the minimum reclamation.'

Winston Chu Ka-shun, adviser to the society, said: 'The society would want [the government] to demonstrate that the temporary reclamation is the minimum and there is no alternative.'

He said it would accept public opinion if the government issued revised proposals that gained support in a public consultation.

Following the court ruling, issued on March 20, a Cheung Kong (Holdings) subsidiary which plans to build a hotel in North Point also sought a judicial review of the bypass plans.

It claims the government violated the harbour ordinance by failing to put up for public consultation a plan for a flyover to carry the bypass over the typhoon shelter, which would have required less reclamation than a tunnel.

Mr Chu said the government should include the flyover option in its revised proposals.