A section of the newly reclaimed Central waterfront promenade will be handed over to the People's Liberation Army, to the shock of concern groups which are fighting against a rezoning plan to limit public access.
The site in question is a 3,000 square metre strip of the new harbourfront. The government is asking town planners to rezone it from "open space" to "military use" to allow for a military dock, angering those who want an unobstructed, continuous promenade for public enjoyment.
The plan dates back to an agreement between China and Britain in 1994 that the PLA should have a 150-metre-long military berth next to its garrison headquarters. The complete agreement was never made public and it is unclear what was stated regarding the land ownership.
A government source said yesterday that the land would be handed over to the army after the government had completed four one-storey buildings on the site to support the dock's operations.
The source also said the army would honour a promise made in 2000 that the public would have access to the dock when it was not in use.
But Albert Lai Kwong-tak, of The Professional Commons lobby group, said he was surprised. "We do not object to the provision of the military berth but the rezoning. We thought the berth, for occasional ceremonial visits, would be like [the demolished] Queen's Pier, which stood on public open space. We never thought the land would be surrendered to the army altogether."
In the design process for the harbourfront over the past few years, the government had always said the site would be zoned as open space. "This gave us legitimate expectation that the land would remain public. I wonder if officials are concealing any other deals," Lai said.
Lai's group was among those who called on the public to make submissions to the Town Planning Board against the rezoning.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a law professor with the University of Hong Kong, said a military berth did not necessarily warrant ownership of the land to be handed to the army. He said the government should disclose the 1994 deal to clarify the issue.
The Development Bureau said the rezoning was a "technical amendment" and drawing a military zone was "a more diligent arrangement" than open space.