Lung Wo Road is just another monument to 'concrete coalition'
Lung Wo Road, the new dual carriageway on the Central reclamation, is an unmitigated disaster. Of all government departments currently engaged in public vandalism, the Transport Department is the major culprit.
Lung Wo Road is not the Central-Wan Chai bypass, which is now going underground. It was shown on the outline zoning plan for the Central reclamation as the surface road P2. Activists urged the government to look at P2 as a pleasant, tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly ocean boulevard with room for a tramway and lined with shops and cafes.
In a meeting two years ago with Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, I said P2 was instead being envisioned as a 'thundering thoroughfare'. She said I was exaggerating. I wonder what she would say now? Instead of being tree-lined, it is lined by pedestrian barriers. It is well on its way to becoming the Salisbury Road of Central. Anyone who has tried to cross Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui will understand. Pedestrians are treated like rodents, herded into underground warren-passageways. The whole ambience of the area around the Cultural Centre has been destroyed by the Transport Department's worship of the car.
What traffic is Lung Wo Road meant to relieve? I drive along Gloucester Road every day. A bad jam will add 10 minutes to my journey time. I can live with it. The eastbound choke-points are the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and Canal Road/Times Square. Westbound, the choke-point is the Central gridlock. None will be relieved either by Lung Wo Road or the Central-Wan Chai bypass. Message to government - try sensible policies before pouring concrete.
The Transport Department is not under Mrs Lam's authority, where it might be more effectively controlled. Instead, it is left to prowl and devour. It can grab land without the Town Planning Board's oversight. And it has access to Hong Kong's biggest money pot. All government revenue from land sales is hypothecated (that is, goes exclusively) to the capital works reserve fund, which can be used only for infrastructure development. It is not available for health care, education, provision for the elderly, solving air pollution or our fisheries crisis.
This treasure chest is reserved for the one interest group that matters - the concrete coalition. When I sat on the Advisory Council on the Environment, I suggested that income from the plastic bag levy should be used for conservation. Government representatives were aghast: 'We can't hypothecate - it's against every principle of government revenue.' Conservation, although it begins with 'c', does not belong to the concrete coalition, for whom the usual principles don't apply. Record prices are again being paid at land auctions - more concrete is coming your way.
I don't regret the Central reclamation. I regret the opportunity we have lost to make it a world-class waterfront. It is entirely due to the pig-headedness of the authorities. Lung Wo Road should be renamed 'Donald Tsang Expressway', so future generations will know whom to commemorate.
Markus Shaw, founding member, Designing Hong Kong