West Kowloon Cultural District

West Kowloon park bosses urged to scrap list of 'restrictive' by-laws

Concern groups urge arts hub bosses to scrap idea of by-laws for 23-hectare open space and rely instead on public's sense of responsibility

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 4:54am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 11:40am

Planned by-laws covering the future West Kowloon park should be torn up and the public given the right to decide how the open space is used, according to a call by some 20 concern groups.

The groups say the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority should trust the sense of responsibility of park-goers rather than trying to manage the 23 hectares of open space from the top down. They will put their concerns to the authority and its consultation panel this month.

The authority last month revealed plans to draw up a list of banned behaviour, including use of foul language, annoying others, and - in an apparent nod to concerns about the behaviour of mainland tourists - public urination and defecation. The by-laws will need lawmakers' approval.

But Ada Wong Ying-kay, founder and chief executive of one of the concern groups, the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture, said freeing the park from rules would foster responsibility among park users.

Doing so would change the culture of the city's public spaces. She does not want to see the arts hub authority go the way of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs most of the city's parks. She says the department adopted a top-down style of management that killed citizens' sense of responsibility.

"There are increasing restrictions in public spaces," Wong said. In the long run, an excess of rules would turn Hongkongers into "disciplined citizens" taking orders from the top out of fear, and unable to take the initiative to be responsible for themselves.

Wong, a solicitor and member of the arts hub's consultation panel, added that much of the behaviour covered under the proposed by-laws - such as defecating in public - was already illegal.

The groups submitted a 300-signature petition against the by-laws to the Legislative Council.

The park plans have grown increasingly controversial.

Many of the 5,000 trees envisaged in British architect Norman Foster's original concept have been removed, replaced by lawns, a performance area and arts pavilions, in the latest plan by Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers, ACLA and West 8.

Some claimed the changes were only introduced to cut the cost of the park, from HK$1.8 billion to HK$1 billion, at a time when the authority is facing a surge in construction costs.

Yau Tsim Mong district councillor and consultation panel member Hung Chiu-wah said he was more worried about park management than the new design. "If it is entirely covered by trees, there's no open spaces for large events and cycling paths," Hung said.

Artist Chow Chun-fai of Hong Kong Culture Monitor, one of the concern groups, feared park bosses would side with the wealthy inhabitants of nearby luxury flats and high-class hotels over Hongkongers who just wanted to use the space.

"What if there are complaints from the nearby residents? Will the park management side with park users or the rich people living around the area?" Chow said.

His concerns echo a headline-grabbing case from 2006, when Leisure and Cultural Services Department staff swooped on musicians in Tuen Mun Park, citing a ban of the use of amplifiers where noise levels exceeded 70 decibels. There were arrests, and a 72-year-old man died when the department staff clashed with a crowd of about 100.

The department has also attracted protests for banning the walking of dogs or ball games outside designated areas.

Hung said public surveys commissioned by arts hub bosses showed a strong desire for a light touch in park management. But by-laws were needed, especially by park managers, alongside freedom and respect for other park users.

The design could help smooth out conflicts by offering different areas for different uses, he said. For example, one area could be a dedicated quiet zone.

A spokesman for the arts hub authority said it would take a "free and open" approach to managing the park and would meet the concern groups in the coming weeks. He said a survey on the park's management had been conducted and would be discussed by the consultation panel on August 12.