For all its talk about giving the harbour back to the people, the government has struggled to shake off a perception that it sees prime waterfront land primarily as a source of revenue. A recent submission by the Lands Department does not help. Indeed, it seems to give the game away. The department stated that prime sites along the harbour with panoramic sea views should be devoted to commercial and residential development for the generation of the highest land premiums. The use of any parts of these sites for open space would represent an underutilisation of the land and should be avoided, it said. This view was expressed in the department's response to an application by harbour conservationists who want to see the development density lowered for one of these prime sites, in Oil Street, North Point. The Town Planning Board will consider the application tomorrow. The Lands Department comment formed just one part of a submission by one government department in relation to one piece of waterside land. But it neatly sums up what appears to be the government's underlying philosophy. This is the sort of thinking which has already blighted our harbourside and denied people access to it. It is outdated and runs contrary to public opinion, which is increasingly concerned about how to protect Hong Kong's greatest asset. Unfortunately, despite a groundswell of public opposition, such thinking has continued to prevail - from Oil Street, to plans for the Tamar site and the Central reclamation. Take, for example, comments made by Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan, the permanent secretary for housing, planning and lands, when defending plans for commercial and office developments on newly reclaimed land in Central. Mrs Lau said people would not go to the waterfront if they had nothing to do there. She made it sound as if Hong Kong people are only interested in shopping. If shopping malls are built on harbourside land people will, naturally, go there to shop. But there are many other, more attractive, options. Hong Kong needs more public open space - waterside parks, promenades and squares. People would love to have somewhere to walk, play games, or just to sit and enjoy the surroundings. If water pollution in the harbour is improved, then water sports could be added to the list. On paper, the government's plan for Central appears to take the public's yearning for more open space into account. Open space will take up about 47 per cent of the newly reclaimed land. Only 14 per cent will be taken up by 'low-rise' commercial and office developments. But the planned 'groundscrapers' have a combined floor area equivalent to Two IFC, an 88-storey tower. They are expected to draw more traffic to the area, adding to the congestion. This, in turn, requires the building of new roads. The government argues that the provision of high-quality commercial and office space in Central is necessary to maintain its competitive status. But Central does not have to expand at the expense of the harbour. Over the years, the shoreline of Central has kept changing because of relentless reclamation. But had the shoreline been made a real boundary, our prime business district would have expanded in other directions, notably westward in a natural process of urban renewal. Waterside development should now be all about how to ensure the harbour can be better enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong - and how it can be preserved for future generations. This will require a change of mindset among our officials, especially those in the Lands Department. Reclamation should be kept to a minimum and development should be for the benefit of the whole community. The best way to use prime harbourside land is to enhance its beauty and make it accessible to the public - not to fill it with yet more office blocks and shopping malls.