My Take

Hong Kong Town Planning Board decision on PLA harbourfront site is highly flawed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 3:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 5:38am

I stand corrected. I once through this column called the Town Planning Board a government lapdog and rubber stamp, which provoked an angry reply from its chairman. I was wrong. It is worse; it's just another government department - nay, a sub-unit - in all but name.

On Friday, it reached a decision to approve a ridiculous plan to rezone a large chunk of the Central harbourfront as a military site for the People's Liberation Army's dock. In doing so, it has proved beyond doubt it is nothing but an instrument of the government. After all, the board's chairman is Thomas Chow Tat-ming, the Permanent Secretary for Development (Planning and Lands), so what do you expect? It appears he has ambitions to match the extreme unpopularity of his boss, Paul Chan Mo-po.

The zoning plan, now approved, was flawed from the beginning. It met with more than 19,000 public objections, which Chow and his gang duly ignored. As a result, while the dock area of 0.3 hectares being converted from open space to military use has all along been considered "sometimes for PLA use, but mostly for public use", it's now under garrison rule, outside of Hong Kong jurisdiction. Well done, board members. Does the PLA now control the area even during periods when it is open to the public? It would seem so.

The zoning issue arose because of a 1994 agreement between Britain and China over garrison sites in Hong Kong. It covered dozens of sites, one of which is the Prince of Wales Barracks. It promised to reserve 150 metres from the Central and Wan Chai reclamation, understood to be for PLA facility use. So why not just zone this space for the garrison while preserving the rest of the area up to the water's edge as public space? That would preserve the area as part of a continuous waterfront promenade. But the original zone planners and now the board members consider the priority of the area to be military, even though the area is supposed to be open most of the time to the public except when the garrison decides to use the facilities.

I have no doubt the garrison commander is more than capable of exercising discretion and common sense. It is wholly unnecessary that he should be handed this new power.