Maritime museum must not deprive public of pier access

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 May, 2010, 12:00am

I refer to the articles ('Museum eyes Star Ferry Pier site', April 22), ('Relocation to Central will not shut pier to ferries, museum pledges', April 24) and the letter by Stephen Davies ('Maritime Museum does not seek complete takeover of Star Ferry Pier', April 25).

Dr Davies, director of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and his colleagues are to be commended for their dedication to preserving the rich maritime history of Hong Kong and promoting our cultural activities. Despite my personal sympathy for the project, the matter raises a fundamental issue - whether the interests of a private organisation can override legitimate public interests.

Their present proposal is for the museum to occupy the whole of both the observation deck and the upper deck as well as the eastern half of both the lower and upper levels of the Star Ferry Pier (Pier 8) in Central. The result is to deprive the public both enjoyment of the space that has been dedicated to be used as 'public open space' as well as the use of the eastern half of the pier.

The Court of Final Appeal judgment provides the following guidelines - that use of the harbour can only be justified if there is an 'overriding public need', and that there must be 'no reasonable alternative'. This means that the first use of the harbour should be for shipping and that the harbourfront should be reserved for uses that need to be at the edge of the harbour, such as a pier. In the present case, a museum can be located anywhere and does not need to be on the harbour or at the harbourfront.

The judgment also means that the need to use the harbour and the harbourfront must be overwhelming, otherwise the harbour will be irreversibly damaged by innovative ideas that people come up with, like the proposed 'Harbour Park' (in the harbour, in that case).

Our society is particularly concerned if the government provides a lawful reason for reclamation (in this case, building the new Pier 8 to replace the former Star Ferry Pier), and after completion of the reclamation the government then changes the land use for another purpose altogether, as in the present proposal. This is dishonest. Such action will fundamentally undermine the credibility of the government, and the public will justifiably distrust and mistrust what the government may promise in the future.

Furthermore, if this application is approved, it will set a very dangerous precedent for the future and will completely undermine both the letter and the spirit of the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, which was enacted to protect and preserve our harbour.

Finally, our society recognises the importance of the Maritime Museum to Hong Kong. The project deserves the support of Hong Kong people as well as the government. We urge the government to give first priority to the museum in allocating space in the West Kowloon Cultural District, as this museum there would be a popular attraction and would greatly enhance Hong Kong's cultural development.

Winston K. S. Chu, adviser, Society for Protection of the Harbour