Controversial plan to rezone Central harbourfront land for PLA dock gets green light
Town Planning Board unanimously approves proposal which means People's Liberation Army will decide when public can access prime 0.3 hectare site
Olga Wong and Stuart Lau
The government is studying the need to amend a law to ensure the public can freely enjoy the military pier on the Central waterfront when it is not in use by the People's Liberation Army, sources close to the government said.
Yesterday the government secured approval from the Town Planning Board to rezone the dock area of 0.3 hectares from open space to military use, ending a year-long process.
Legal experts said the green light, given despite huge public opposition, would create management and enforcement problems. Amendments to the law were necessary to ensure a clear right of use, including protest, they said.
The sources said the Security Bureau was studying the need to amend the Public Order Ordinance, under which a person entering any place occupied by the PLA must obtain a permit from the garrison's commander. The Security Bureau did not reply when asked if it was considering a legislative amendment.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said the ordinance did not deal with sometimes-military, sometimes- public land. It was also unclear if protests on the site would require the PLA's approval, he said.
"It must be clarified under what circumstances the land will be classified as a closed area and when it is an open space," said Cheung, who is also a member of the Independent Police Complaints Council.
Senior counsel Gladys Li said it was "procedurally flawed" that the government did not make necessary legislative changes prior to tabling the issue with the Town Planning Board. "It is very unclear who would be administering the site when it's for public access," she said.
The unanimous decision by the board yesterday morning was criticised for ignoring a majority of public views. "It is a political decision ... it means the land would be ceded to the PLA," said lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok of the Civic Party.
The board was flooded with more than 19,000 public comments after the government's rezoning application last February. Only 20 supported the rezoning., which will become officially effective when it secures approval from the Executive Council.