Waterfront authority ‘with teeth’ could cut red tape

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 4:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 October, 2013, 3:35am

The city needs to set up a harbourfront authority with executive power as a solution to improving the design of the waterfront and adding vibrancy to it, a watchdog says.

Such a body would relieve waterfront projects of the red tape and bureaucratic mindset that now fragmented the execution of any proposal, depending on the government agencies involved, the Harbourfront Commission said.

It also said that such an authority could reduce the time needed for waterfront projects to about three years, from the current five.

"You need an agency to deliver - in terms of planning, design, management and operation - in order to deliver the waterfront that Hong Kong deserves," commission chairman Nicholas Brooke said.

The commission launched a public consultation yesterday to gauge opinion on the need to form a one-stop dedicated body overseeing the harbourfront.

The three-month exercise will seek views on the composition of the new authority - whether it should recruit civil servants from government agencies or form an independent staffing team.

Residents can also discuss if the commission should be retained to serve as a watchdog of the authority's performance.

The commission was formed in 2010 to replace the harbourfront-enhancement committee, which monitored harbour areas after the government pledged to stop reclamation in 2004.

But with no executive power, it has been an advisory body of professionals and community representatives. Harbourfront management is the shared responsibility of more than 10 departments, depending on the land use.

Brooke said the authority could start with a "very modest approach", with the ultimate goal of managing all areas along the 73-kilometre waterfront. "It should start slowly, for example, with the newly reclaimed areas in Central and Wan Chai."

Asked if the authority could resolve land-use conflicts, such as public opposition to the rezoning of open space into a pier for the PLA, he said Hong Kong was not alone in facing such an issue.

He cited Singapore, Sydney and Auckland as examples, which shared their waterfront experiences in a forum held by the commission yesterday.

"Three of the four cities have military facilities in the harbour. We are not unusual by any means," Brooke said.

"Like us, they say they live with it. They live with the facilities and extend the possibility of public enjoyment when [the facilities] are not being used for military purposes."

Vincent Ng Wing-shun, a commission member, said: "The authority should be able to strike a balance. It wouldn't allow a mall at the waterfront selling only milk formula and gold."