Harbour authority could soon become a reality

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am


A new authority to oversee a 'revolution' on Hong Kong's waterfront could be one of the first projects for the next administration.

The suggestion comes from Nicholas Brooke, head of the current harbour watchdog, who is also a key supporter of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying, having nominated him in the recent election. The chairman of the Harbour Commission said the new body should be given more powers to transform the waterfront into a global landmark.

'It will be a revolution. Hong Kong has a world-class harbour, but not a world-class waterfront,' said Brooke, a veteran surveyor who also heads the Science and Technology Parks Corporation.

He said all public land fronting Victoria Harbour should be vested in the new authority, which would then seek proposals from businesses or consortiums for refurbishment projects.

Brooke said Leung had been informed of the ideas and he believed the new chief executive would support a more powerful management model for the harbour areas.

Activists battling the harbour's reclamation have been calling for such an authority for years.

But officials dismissed the idea as 'premature' until last year, when development minister Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor backed the idea of having an authority and asked the Harbour Commission to look into it.

About 70 per cent of the 73-kilometre Victoria Harbour waterfront is owned by the government.

But it is controlled by different government departments, which critics say has resulted in uninspiring designs and a dearth of activities for the public.

Brooke, expressing his personal views in an interview, said the new authority would offer constortiums long leases to help attract investment and innovation.

'The proposals should allow more recreation on the water and dining facilities on land,' he said.

'Tenders won't be asked for huge land premiums, but will share risks and revenues with the authority.'

The authority would be self-financing after an injection of seed capital that could run into billions of dollars.

The existing commission, with membership broadened to include all sections of society, would stay on as an adviser.

Brooke also proposed putting major development nodes such as Kai Tak and Kwun Tong, and newly reclaimed areas in Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, under the authority's control. This would including vacated markets and underused piers.

Brooke does not propose that the new authority be able to take back private property on the waterfront and approve land use, as an equivalent body can do in Singapore.

'Resuming private property could be controversial and [approving land use] would encroach on the role of the Town Planning Board,' Brooke said.

Lee Wing-tat of the Democratic Party, a lawmaker monitoring waterfront management, supported the idea of forming a harbour authority. But he said that whether the private sector or authority managed waterfront areas, freedom of expression should be respected and people allowed to petition and protest.