Controversial reclamation work had been approved, say officials

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 January, 2009, 12:00am

A controversial reclamation near Cyberport is completely legal and is in fact far smaller than what could have been built in the area, the Drainage Services Department says.

At the same time, a prominent waterfront protection activist has said that while it may be legal, the reclamation highlights the lack of protection for marine environments outside Victoria Harbour.

The Sunday Morning Post last week reported that the reclamation, described as a 'temporary pier' needed for the construction of a storm water management project, appeared far larger than any plan put forward for public consultation.

But senior officials have defended the project, saying it is well within the borders of an area approved by the chief executive and the director of lands and gazetted last May.

'The pier we built is within the gazetted boundary,' said Alan Ip Wing-cheung, chief engineer of the department's project management division. In theory, he said, the contractor was entitled to reclaim the entire area as long as approval was obtained from the department's agent, project consultant Ove Arup.

Residents have complained that the platform that has emerged from the water bears no resemblance to the smaller 'temporary pier' shown in plans attached to environmental permits issued for the project.

But Mr Ip said the permit was issued before the design for the pier was complete, and anyway, there is included in those plans a much larger 'temporary works area'.

'The pier is basically the contractor's design. At the [permit] stage we have the idea that we need a pier, otherwise we can't do the work. But the precise shape and size of it I would say is not 100 per cent fixed.

'The environment department is concerned about environmental disruptions arising from works. Their primary concern is about water quality ... they are not really concerned about the shape or the size of the pier itself.'

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department confirmed that it had no jurisdiction over reclamations already approved under the Foreshore and Seabed (Reclamations) Ordinance.

'We have issued a permit with a condition requiring a submission in respect of a silt curtain, which is an essential feature to mitigate water-quality impacts.' That was the only condition placed on the project in respect of the reclamation, the spokeswoman said.

Winston Chu Ka-sun, a lawyer and founding member of foreshore concern group Save Our Shorelines, said that once an area had been outlined under the foreshore ordinance, there was very little control over what was done within it.

'At present there is very little protection for our shorelines,' Mr Chu said. 'You can reclaim 100 square miles so long as you gazette it.

'At the moment, they can do whatever they want, without having any justification. It just requires two signatures, from the director of lands and the chief executive.'

He said it was common for ambiguous language to be employed in notices regarding such projects. That was why residents had been surprised by the extent of the work.

'They have been deliberately making things less than clear and effectively hiding things from the public,' Mr Chu said. 'This is what has been happening for many years now.'

But Anthony Tsang Kwok-leung, a technical secretary of the drainage department, said it was unfortunate that the language used to describe the project had not been more clear.

'The fact is that we have shown a tiny pier on a plan that was submitted to the [Environmental Protection Department] but the reclamation is covered by another ordinance,' he said. 'It is unfortunate.'