The people are the rightful owners of the harbour, although you would not know it. Their interests have been ill-served by the fragmentation of planning and management authority across different government departments. As a result they had little say in the loss of half of it to reclamation over the years and the loss of access to the waterfront. The mission of the now-defunct Harbourfront Enhancement Committee, established in 2004, was to give them a bigger say in what happens to their most precious natural asset, but it was little more than a PR exercise.
Its most meaningful legacy was to recommend that it be replaced with a commission with more authority to carry out the mission. Two years after that body was set up, with then-development minister, now Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, as deputy chairwoman, the legacy is bearing fruit. The commission has submitted a report to the government on setting up a harbour authority to oversee management and development. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has supported the idea and a government source has told the Post a public consultation is expected to start by early next year.
That is good news. The government owns 70 per cent of the 73-kilometre harbour front, but the lack of a senior agency to co-ordinate work has had regrettable consequences. Over the years, reckless reclamation looked like it was reducing the harbour to a channel, and insensitive planning and development made the shoreline increasingly inaccessible.
The problem is illustrated by a development application before the commission which may become one of the first to be determined by the proposed authority. The commission stalled a bid by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club to turn the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter into a yacht racing centre because some members felt it called for oversight by an authority with power to co-ordinate the involvement of government departments. That should lead to a better balance between development and the rights of the harbour's owners.