Keep controversial waterfront as public open space
Over the past decade the people of Hong Kong have been promised a world-class harbourfront in Central upon completion of the final stages of reclamation in Victoria Harbour.
Between 2007 and 2011 the government conducted an urban design study for the new Central harbourfront. Throughout this public consultation exercise it was repeatedly stated that the waterfront promenade - an area to the east of the new Star Ferry pier - would be zoned public open space for the enjoyment of the community.
According to the final study report, the waterfront promenade will accommodate a diversity of uses and activity spaces including green lawns, viewing platforms, ferry piers and plazas. It will also provide berth facilities (four structures and landing steps) for use by the PLA. These facilities will be part of the public open space and the area open to the public when not required by the garrison.
However in February the public was shocked to find that this area, 150 metres by 20 metres, right at the heart of the promenade, would be rezoned to military use to be managed by the PLA under the Garrison Law. This is in complete violation of the government's promise to create a harbourfront for the people. A military zoning would have a tremendous adverse impact on the ambiance and the function of the surrounding open space for leisure use. As the two zonings are completely incompatible, the draft outline zoning plan was met with over 19,000 public objections.
Over the course of the Town Planning Board hearings in November and December it became apparent that the government cannot guarantee when or how the space will be opened to the public. This is completely dependent upon the PLA's discretion. Moreover, personal safety within the site cannot be protected under Hong Kong laws. Under the Garrison Law the PLA has exclusive jurisdiction and any incident within the parameters cannot be processed by local police and our law courts. This opaque situation has disturbing connotations for prospective visitors to the waterfront promenade.
A much better solution would be to retain the site as public open space while permitting exclusive use of the berth area when the PLA requires it for occasional berthing and ceremonial activities.
Rather than triggering public resentment towards the PLA, this win-win arrangement ensures "freedom of the person" (Article 28 of the Basic Law) while the PLA enjoys privacy of the pier when required.
Katty Law, Central