Central authority should be set up to manage waterfront, says panel

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 December, 2008, 12:00am

A central authority incorporating the relevant government departments should be set up to manage the city's waterfront better, the harbour watchdog said, citing the experiences of London and Liverpool.

The Harbourfront Enhancement Committee said its views evolved after a group of members made a study trip to Britain, the first of four overseas areas it plans to evaluate.

'Setting up a harbour authority is a politically difficult task,' said Carlos Lo Wing-hung, a member of the group that visited Britain. 'But setting up a committee formed by heads of relevant departments should be explored.'

A taskforce was set up this year under the Development Bureau to conduct medium- and long-term harbour planning after the chief executive pledged in his policy address to beautify waterfront areas.

But Professor Lo said the city needed a more integrated structure.

He said a new harbourfront authority should not be formed under a bureau. It should comprise directors of departments involved in waterfront management, and be chaired by a high-ranking official.

'It should not be an advisory committee but a committee with policymaking powers,' he said.

Waterfront areas on Victoria Harbour are managed by different government departments and private developers, depending on ownership. The diverse ownership and lack of clear direction have often resulted in poor design of structures, and waterfront areas becoming inaccessible, prompting calls for the establishment of a harbour authority to centralise waterfront management.

Professor Lo said a mix of management models was found in London but all operated under a clear government vision - to develop a connective and historic harbour with mixed uses. One model saw Docklands transformed into vibrant Canary Wharf by the London Docklands Development Corporation over a 25-year period. The corporation was said to have extensive powers to plan in an integrated way, own land and manage its business.

'We need a more centralised body which encourages local characters to plan the harbourfront,' Professor Lo said.

Hong Kong could also consider management of waterfront areas by non-profit organisations, he said.

A source in the Development Bureau said an NGO could be a third party in managing the new Central waterfront, with the government and private developers.

Harbourfront Enhancement Committee chairman Lee Chack-fan said setting up a cross-departmental committee was a more practical option because establishing a harbour authority with planning power and land ownership required law amendments, which would be politically and legally challenging. The committee would study that option early next year after trips to Sydney, Singapore and Vancouver waterfronts.

A Development Bureau spokeswoman said the government would consider the ideas after they were endorsed by the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee.

Diverse ownership

Waterfront areas are managed by different government departments or private developers, depending on ownership

As of 2004, the area of Victoria Harbour, in square kilometres, was: 41.9