Reclamation projects should be allowed if they lead to harbour improvements
The 'Proportionality Principle on Reclamation of Victoria Harbour', which was developed by the Society for Protection of the Harbour at the request of the Harbourfront Commission, recently attracted much attention both from the news media and the general public. This is because of the importance of the harbour to Hong Kong.
The greater the adverse impact of the reclamation on the harbour, the greater must be the justification; accordingly, having established a public need, in deciding if such need overrides the importance of the harbour, the prime consideration is whether any enrichment of the public enjoyment of the harbour and any enhancement of the environmental, social and economic value of the harbour as a result of the reclamation would justify the loss and damage caused to the harbour.
The basic logic of this principle is very simple. First, the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance pronounced that: 'The harbour is to be protected and preserved.'
Therefore, reclamation should be considered from the point of view of the harbour and should be prohibited if it simply depletes the harbour. However, where the reclamation is needed and minor, but the value of the harbour is thereby enhanced, then it should be considered favourably.
Second, the ordinance constituted the harbour 'a special public asset and a natural heritage of Hong Kong people'. Therefore, as the harbour belongs to the public, the reclamation can only be for public benefit and must not be for private interests.
If it is needed to enrich the use and enjoyment of the harbour by the public, again, the reclamation should be favourably considered.
The principle advocates that if the cumulative effect of the two above requirements overrides the importance of the harbour, then, according to the 'overriding public need' test prescribed by the Court of Final Appeal, the proposed reclamation will be lawful.
Since the law courts gave judgments in our favour, the government has been overly cautious and reluctant to consider new proposals even for small-scale reclamations which are much needed by the community. Hopefully, putting forward this principle will now encourage both the government and the community to make good use of our most valuable natural asset.
Winston K. S. Chu, adviser, Society for Protection of the Harbour