New guidelines governing the size and scope of a People's Liberation Army dock have sparked fears Hong Kong's planned Central waterfront promenade could be compromised.
A rezoning proposal for 150 metres of harbourfront land - issued by the government during the Lunar New Year holiday week - puts flesh on the bones of a deal struck by China and Britain in 1994 that the PLA should have a military berth next to its garrison headquarters.
That deal did not specify the exact dimensions and future development possibilities of the dock, which is still under construction on a thin stretch of land, about the length of one and a half soccer pitches, directly in front of the garrison headquarters.
If endorsed in two months, the Town Planning Board's rezoning proposal would redesignate the plot, now zoned as open space, for military use. This would restrict public access to the site and allow buildings up to 10 metres high, excluding rooftop structures or additional features such as flag poles.
Paul Zimmerman, chief executive of Designing Hong Kong, called for a rethink. He said the site already houses four single-storey buildings and an 8.7 metre concrete structure.
"They have promised a waterfront promenade, not one behind a 10-metre-high building. The mistake that has been made is that they are putting development parameters on a site where they were never intended," said Zimmerman, who is also a district councillor for Pok Fu Lam.
In 2000, when the plan for the Central waterfront promenade was first approved, the size and look of the dock was undecided.
No land rights were proposed.
Under the proposed changes announced on February 15, when the berth is in use the public would be diverted to a walkway behind the dock.
Winston Chu Ka-sun, former chairman and now adviser of the Society for Protection of the Harbour, said there were never any land rights earmarked under the deal between Beijing and London. "I'm disappointed that we have spent 18 years protecting the harbour and now the government is messing up the harbourfront," he said.
"Our society asks the Town Planning Board members to have the courage to stand up for the interests of the Hong Kong people."
Chu said: "It destroys the government's promises to give the people of Hong Kong a continuous promenade and a world-class harbourfront."
A spokeswoman for the Planning Department said the changes were "technical'' and simply defined the use of the area.
She said under the proposed arrangements, the dock would be open to the public when not in use by the military.
A PLA spokesman described the area as a "defence facility'', but did not say how often or for what it would be used.