What we need is a harbour authority

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am


Once bitten, twice shy, is no way to manage Hong Kong's most important natural asset, Victoria Harbour. Yet that is how the government would seem to have approached turning the waterfront over to public use since losing a High Court ruling on reclamation seven years ago. Worried about more protests and legal challenges, it appears to have opted for a policy of delay and stall rather than moving forward with even the most minor projects. Now that its one-time protagonist, the Society for Protection of the Harbour, has made its strategy plain, authorities have to set aside concerns and push ahead with making plans a reality.

A 'them and us' approach is not what Hong Kong needs or wants. All sides should work together to make the harbour as accessible and enjoyable as possible. There is no shortage of worthy ideas that have come from the advisory Harbourfront Commission and taking them from drawing board to reality will serve public interest. The lack of progress prompted the society's Winston Chu Ka-sun to spell out last week where his organisation stood to put authorities at ease.

He should not have needed to. Detailing what he called a 'proportionality principle', Chu said there could be no objection to reclamation on a small scale if it contributed to enjoyment of the harbour. This is in the spirit of the court's ruling that any future reclamation must satisfy an 'overriding public need' test. Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Chu's words gave the government courage to proceed with projects. But with the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance and the court's decision so plain, there should not be reason to put projects on hold.

Government reticence in the face of the legal challenges it has faced over the Central to Wan Chai bypass is understandable. But the commission, although not perfect, is an excellent barometer of community and institutional opinion on harbour development and, through it, authorities have sound guidance on direction. But an even better approach would be the setting up of a harbour authority with the resources and power to implement harbourfront enhancement and operational programmes. With the authority to co-ordinate and direct government departments and bureaus, the disjointed and haphazard approach to our harbour's past development could be avoided.

Half of the harbour has been lost due to economic and political expediency. But what was once accepted no longer applies and Hong Kong's people have won back what is rightfully theirs. Moving promptly forward with the commission's proposals is a good way to proceed, but only by carefully institutionalising the process will there be an assurance that aspirations and values are properly met. Authorities have to push resolutely forward with those wishes.