Government must get serious about harbourfront

It seems officials are merely paying lip service when then talk of enhancing our precious asset; hopefully, the next administration will be more sincere

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 7:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 7:04am

Featured prominently on the cover of the chief executive’s policy address this year were photos of our gorgeous Victoria Harbour, and rightly so. Lined with impossibly packed skyscrapers along the waterfront, the harbour is as much our identity as an asset. It is where our heart and soul lie, and why the world comes to visit us. Ironically, this precious asset is not managed with the care it deserves, as reflected in the about-face on the establishment of a Harbourfront Authority announced in the policy address.

Hong Kong government kept harbour advisory body ‘in the dark’

It would have been less disappointing had the government not endorsed the proposal in the first place. In his first policy speech five years ago, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying threw his weight behind an independent statutory body to oversee harbourfront development. Describing it as a key milestone, he said it should be “a harbour for the people; a harbour of vitality”. But in his swansong speech last month, he said it was still too soon to set up such an authority.

The main obstacles are said to be the extent of power the authority would have and its finances. But the real reasons are probably the vested interests involved. Given our waterfront is lined with prime commercial and residential space and cuts across the jurisdiction of so many departments, the government may be wary of entrusting development and management rights of the harbour to a body over which it has no control.

The alternative proposal is a Harbour Office, which will have fewer powers and less independence than a statutory body. There are concerns that it may not even be able to play an effective coordinating role within the administration, as its chief will be at directorate grade two rank, as opposed to grade six for other department heads. Even with an injection of HK$500 million in funding for the enhancement works, they risk becoming piecemeal facelift projects without character.

Minor reclamation needed for construction of Hong Kong harbourfront walkway, but opposition not expected

Unlike other world-class harbour cities that are managed by a dedicated authority, our harbour development is hindered by red tape involving as many as 20 bureaus and departments. The government is now under even greater pressure to show how its new approach can live up to the promise of developing the harbour for the people.

Leung marked the cover his final policy blueprint with images of the harbour because they symbolise the endeavours and achievements of generations of pragmatic and enterprising Hong Kong people. We trust the next government will share the same sentiment and do a better job of returning Victoria Harbour to the people.