Government transparency key to better planning decisions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2008, 12:00am

H. C. Bee ('We must get our priorities right', May 6) doubts society knows how to weigh its priorities so that our city can advance. I have no doubt Hong Kong does know how to do that.

With our extreme topography and fully developed urban areas, balancing conflicting interests and arriving at sustainable decisions requires more public debate, and inevitably more time, than for developments in Beijing or Shanghai.

The only way we can save time in Hong Kong is by ensuring the greatest possible transparency, impartiality and respect for the law on the side of the government. And here is where we failed. Designing Hong Kong agrees with H. C. Bee that the delay in the Central-Wan Chai bypass is a real loss to Hong Kong. However, the court did not rule on the planned construction method, but ruled that the test required under the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance must be applied. The government has to follow the law and prove that there is an overriding need without reasonable alternative for the reclamation, even when it is temporary.

The judge explained, though, that if it is truly temporary and the outcome is good for the harbour then it is common sense that this test is not difficult to pass. The government has to agree with the public on the construction method, demonstrate a short timeline, and confirm funding for removal. The outcome, putting roads under water to allow people to enjoy the harbour, is obviously a good thing.

As for the new breakwater, the government has to demonstrate the overriding need for protected water for safe berthing and mooring of small vessels and fishermen. The greater challenge is the judicial review sought by Fook Lee Holdings, a Cheung Kong affiliate, which is upset that a massive tunnel portal will be built in front of its hotel in North Point. It claims an elevated road for the Central-Wan Chai bypass requires less reclamation than a tunnel, and hopes to push the tunnel portal to Wan Chai.

The government has to demonstrate that the public agrees that the overriding need for visual and physical access to the harbour justifies any additional reclamation for a tunnel.

Paul Zimmerman, founding member, Designing Hong Kong