Activists pass baton in fight for harbour

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2011, 12:00am

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Two activists at the forefront of efforts to protect Victoria Harbour say they are stepping down from their campaign, satisfied that the harbour has become significantly safer from large-scale reclamations.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, chairwoman of the Society for Protection of the Harbour, and Winston Chu Ka-sun, the society's adviser, said their mission had been accomplished.

'We have come quite a long way,' Loh said yesterday. 'Sixteen years ago, we started this [campaign] to help raise young people's awareness of their duty to protect the harbour ... It's time to be handing over the baton to someone else.'

In a sign of how things have improved, Loh said next Sunday's 'Walk For the Harbour', an annual event for the past five years, would be the last. Loh said her group had made great strides by drafting legislation now known as the 'Protection of the Harbour Ordinance', saving it from the provisional legislative council which wanted it eliminated in 1997. It had also launched several lawsuits against the government over large-scale reclamation projects.

The law and a subsequent Court of Final Appeal judgment in 2004 prevented the government from reclaiming the harbour if there is no 'overriding public need'.

Chu said their campaign opposed most proposed reclamations. Only about 30 hectares out of a proposed 584 hectares were being reclaimed.

'We are not immortal,' said Chu, a lawyer. 'We can't do this forever. The task of looking after the harbour should be shared among Hongkongers.' The society will, however, continue to exist. Chu said: 'We are not chickening out, we are not selling out. If the government proceeds again on [large-scale] reclamation, we will sue them.'

Dennis Li Kit-wai, the society's director, will take over Loh and Chu's task of monitoring the government.

In September, Chu extended an olive branch to the government by presenting his 'proportionality principle' to the Harbourfront Commission. He suggested that in determining whether there was an overriding public need for a reclamation project, the primary consideration should be whether any enrichment of the public enjoyment of the harbour would justify the loss and damage to the harbour. Minor reclamations such as the building of a pier, lighthouse, landing steps, breakwater or slipway should be allowed, Chu had said.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, secretary for development, welcomed the proposal at the commission meeting, but said that it offered symbolic meaning rather than a technical solution, because there could always be another party who could go to court. But she said the activists' gesture would encourage officials to proceed with several projects involving small-scale reclamations, including a public promenade under the Island Eastern Corridor, public piers for water-taxis at the West Kowloon Cultural District and a monorail connecting Kai Tak with Kwun Tong.

Chu said the society would continue to call for the establishment of a statutory harbour authority to centralise urban planning and construction work around the harbourfront.