The government is prepared to reduce further the size of the reclamation it says is needed in Wan Chai for a bypass linking North Point with Central.
But harbour activists say the government may still have to defend the plan in court to prove the latest proposal is the minimum required to satisfy the condition of 'overriding public need' in the Harbour Ordinance.
Under the latest draft plan, endorsed by the Town Planning Board yesterday, 12.7 hectares of land would be reclaimed - down from the 15 hectares proposed last year and the 25 hectares suggested in 2005.
Reclamation near the convention centre has been cut to 5.3 hectares from 6 hectares, while the fill off the Wan Chai waterfront has been adjusted to 4.1 hectares from 5 hectares.
The plan represents the government's latest effort to get the project started since its original plan was rejected by the highest court in 2004.
Civil Engineering and Development Department project manager Ma Lee-tak said the revised plan was based on careful consideration of public need.
Maunsell Consultant Asia, the government-commissioned firm that submitted the new plan, described it as the 'minimum reclamation required by the overriding public need'.
But the reduction failed to impress some harbour activists, who questioned the government's criteria for 'minimum reclamation'.
Independent legislator Kwok Ka-ki, who opposes any reclamation, urged the government to conduct further studies and win greater public support before proceeding.
'The 'minimum reclamation' size keeps changing - from 25 to 15 and 12.7 hectares,' Dr Kwok said. 'Is there a subjective way to define it?'
Under the newly endorsed blueprint, a bypass between Central and North Point would be completed by 2015. Victoria Park would then be extended to the waterfront and Golden Bauhinia Plaza would also be expanded, creating a 5km public promenade from Central to North Point. There would be five themed precincts: arts and culture, a water park, water recreation, heritage, and leisure and recreation.
Dr Kwok said the government might be challenged in court over the way it defined 'minimum reclamation'.
'The government has to follow the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, which restricts reclamation,' he said.
The Court of Final Appeal blocked the original plan, saying the Town Planning Board had wrongly interpreted the ordinance in approving it. The court also set out a single principle - overriding public need - to justify such projects.
Maunsell Consultant Asia yesterday also revealed the revised Wan Chai blueprint included nine pedestrian links to the bypass: five ground crossings, three landscaped decks and one footbridge.
Each of the landscaped decks would be 30 metres wide.
Earliest year in which the planned 5km waterfront promenade from Central to North Point could open: 2015