Protection of harbour requires vigilance
Hong Kong's past and future are rooted in Victoria Harbour. Without its deep, sheltered waters, our city would never have become a major trading centre. The port's regional prominence has diminished, but the fall in revenue from shipping has been replaced by the money brought in by the tens of millions of tourists who line the waterfront each year to see one of the world's most famous skylines. Few other urban areas can boast as outstanding a natural feature; it is an asset we have to do our utmost to treasure.
Authorities see the harbour differently. Successive governments since Hong Kong's colonial founding in 1841 have grappled with a high population density and shortage of usable land. They quickly learned that by filling in the harbour and selling the land for a premium, budgets could be easily financed. That model continues, despite hundreds of thousands of hectares of the harbour having been lost: at least 500 more hectares has been gazetted for reclamation.
The work must not go ahead. Protection laws that went into force in 1998 stipulate that the harbour is 'a special public asset and a natural heritage of the people'. Reclamation should only be carried out to meet essential community needs and aspirations. There is nothing necessary about the proposals, which will do little to preserve the harbour for the relaxation and enjoyment of Hongkongers.
Hong Kong makes poor use of its harbourside. Singapore, Hamburg, Sydney, Baltimore and San Francisco are among cities that have developed hugely popular waterside districts. Despite the potential of our harbour, all we have to show are office blocks, luxury housing, shopping malls and a scant few promenades.
We have watchdogs like the Society for Protection of the Harbour to thank for harbour-preserving laws and keeping the government honest, but now a looming battle over plans to change the use of a harbourside site in Wan Chai from public to commercial use highlights the need for continued vigilance.