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Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam changes plan for HK$10 billion waterfront authority

Breaking from campaign pledge, city leader now proposes district-based bodies looking after highly anticipated 73km project

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 11:09pm

Hong Kong’s leader revealed a change of position on developing the city’s waterfront, now departing from a highly anticipated plan for a HK$10 billion statutory authority to manage the prime location.

In a break from a campaign pledge earlier this year that would create an independent statutory body for the ambitious project, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor now proposed having more district-based bodies overseeing parts of the city’s 73km waterfront.

“The harbourfront authority was conceived by me in my last year as development secretary [in 2012] ... but five years down the road, I now tend to have a different view,” Lam said on a radio programme on Friday.

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“Instead of having a single harbourfront authority comprising non-officials to look after the harbourfront, why shouldn’t we have a more district-based sort of trust that could look after certain parts of the harbourfront that would reflect characteristics of that particular district and that would give people more opportunity to participate?”

Her statement contrasted sharply with her stance during the chief executive race when she said she would “promote the establishment of the harbourfront authority”.

Harbourfront projects are at present managed by various government bodies and fall under the Harbourfont Commission, which advises the government on development. The idea of having a one-stop, powerful harbour authority was raised during the chief executive’s policy address in 2013.

The independent statutory body would require HK$10.2 billion to set up, and the money would be allocated towards developing eight sites at the outset.

The matter has dragged on for years as uncertainty loomed over whether the public and the Legislative Council would throw their support behind such high-level funding.

In January, former leader Leung Chun-ying instead proposed establishing an office under the Development Bureau and earmarked a budget of HK$500 million to develop several sites.

Lam raised the example of High Line in New York, a park owned by the city but run by a non-profit conservancy group. It raises almost all its annual budget through private and public sources.

Commission members on Friday said the chief executive’s comments were the first time they had heard about her change of mind. Some urged Lam to clarify what alternatives she was proposing.

I’d also want to know if what she’s proposing may be more efficient than an authority
Vincent Ng Wing-shun, Harbourfront Commission

Vincent Ng Wing-shun said he wanted to see the authority launch as soon as possible and see Lam make good on her election pledge.

“But I’d also want to know if what she’s proposing may be more efficient than an authority,” he added.

There were concerns the authority would follow in the footsteps of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which has drawn criticism for failing to deliver the art hub project on time and being overly bureaucratic.

Ng said that even the authority would have its limits, arguing it would not be practical for it to manage the whole 73km with just HK$10.2 billion and that the body would not be the only option for developing the waterfront.

Southern district councillor Paul Zimmerman worried whether the trust would involve property developers’ investments. He said the links could prove controversial.

“I think what we need now is clarity on how we’re going forward,” Zimmerman said. “The point is the harbour is ready to be done, the money needs to be invested. We should stop talking and go do it.”