The People's Liberation Army berth on the Central waterfront should be redesigned to reflect the views of the public, a veteran landscape architect and harbourfront adviser says.
This would help regain trust and allay suspicions that it might not be open to the public when not in use by the military, Patrick Lau Hing-tat said.
"The public does not believe that the army will open the berth area to the public when it is not in use," said Lau, who helped to deal with a similar problem in the port city of Qingdao .
"A way out could be a more open design devised by both the government and the public."
His suggestion comes amid fears that the dream of a continuous promenade along the new waterfront created by reclamation in Central and Wan Chai will not be realised.
"How the area can accommodate the uses of both parties should be opened for public discussion," said Lau, chairman of Earthasia Design Group and member of both the Harbourfront Commission and the Town Planning Board.
The Planning Department has received close to 10,000 submissions opposing the government's application to rezone the 0.3 hectare dock area from open space to military use.
The Development Bureau has emphasised that the garrison had agreed in 2000 and confirmed recently that the area would be open for public enjoyment when not in military use, and that the provision of the berth is to honour an agreement between the colonial and Beijing governments signed in 1994.
But activists argue that it is unnecessary to turn an open space into a no-go area.
Lau said his company had recently been asked to offer options for a similar situation in Qingdao, where the local government is turning an old fishing harbour of eight square kilometres into a leisure and logistics centre.
The project, costing tens of billions of yuan, includes a cruise terminal due to open next year.
But a 400-metre PLA marine base occupies part of the 5-kilometre waterfront.
Options floated by Lau's company to make the area more accessible included building an opening bridge over the berth and a shaded, 10-metre-wide pedestrian way behind it.
"They eventually introduced a pedestrian road to the originally restricted area," he said.
In Hong Kong, the Planning Department said in a paper submitted to the board that electronic folding gates would be designed to fence off the dock but they could be hidden in a nearby building when the area was open to the public. A 6-metre-wide road behind the berth is also designed for public use when the berth is in use.
But harbour protection pioneer and lawyer Winston Chu Ka-sun said the paper was not legally binding.
"If it is zoned for military use, any other use will be unlawful. The public will have no right to get in," he said.
Chu said he would prefer to keep the area open. He noted that the deal signed by the two governments did not say the berth should be handed over to the garrison, as was specified for other military facilities listed in the agreement.
"It says only to leave free 150 metres of the waterfront for the construction of a military dock."
A bureau spokeswoman said district councillors and the Harbourfront Commission had been informed of the dock design, with a boarding facility and small four buildings of 4 metres high housing public utilities.