Harbour campaigner extends olive branch

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am


A prominent harbour protection activist has extended an olive branch to the government.

Ahead of a meeting of the Harbourfront Commission today, Winston Chu Ka-sun said he would not launch any more legal challenges to the government so long as officials respect harbour protection law and implement only projects involving small-scale reclamation.

Chu, of the Society for Protection of the Harbour, said he would introduce at the meeting what he called the 'proportionality principle'. Applied to reclamation projects, it means the gains to the public brought by a project must outweigh any damage to Victoria Harbour.

He said: 'Since several court cases in the past few years ruled against the government, officials have banned all sorts of projects that needed reclamation - not even the smallest ones for building a promenade. It was never our intention to stop reclamation altogether or stop the public from enjoying the harbour. If ideas to enhance the waterfront are banned, the harbour will be sterilised.'

As a commission member, he will present his proposal along with his explanation of how harbour protection law, which he helped draft, should be applied.

In a judicial review of the ordinance, sought by the society in 2004, the Court of Final Appeal described the harbour as the city's most important and valuable natural asset and that any future reclamation must satisfy an 'overriding public need' test.

Chu now proposes the 'proportionality principle' for applying the top court's ruling. The principle means that the greater the adverse impact of the reclamation, the better must be the justification.

It also says that in determining whether there is an overriding public need, the primary consideration should be whether any enrichment of public enjoyment of the harbour would justify the loss and damage to the harbour.

'All these years, it has been only us who sued the government,' Chu said. 'If we all agree on this principle, I don't think Hong Kong people will waste money and sue the government again.'

He said some limited forms of reclamation could enhance the harbour's value - such as for building a pier, lighthouse, landing steps, breakwater and slipway, all of which are necessary to use and enjoy the harbour. But he would still object to construction of roads and reclamation to create land that could be sold to generate revenue.

Alan Leong Kah-kit, a lawmaker on Legco's harbour affairs subcommittee who represents the Kowloon East district including Kai Tak, said he agreed that beneficial projects should not be banned. He cited the example of a proposed bridge over the old airport's runway to connect Kwun Tong as a project that deserved public support.

But he said officials had shied away because the bridge project would involve several piles being placed in the seabed.

'But it is the court and not an individual or a group that has the ultimate say on interpreting the law,' Leong said.

The Development Bureau said the minister, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is also vice-chairwoman of the commission, would state her views at the meeting today.


The height, in metres, of an observation wheel proposed for the new-look Central harbourfront