However inappropriate the action of protesters trying to block the demolition of the old Star Ferry pier's clock tower, their dogged fight has raised fears of a growing disconnection between the government, legislature and society. In the space of a week, a group of disorganised protesters has created no small problem for the bureaucracy through their repeated attempts to stop the dismantling of the clock tower. When television footage of their clash with the police was broadcast live, pan-democratic legislators jumped in to try to gain political mileage. On Wednesday, lawmakers held an emergency adjournment debate in the Legislative Council on a motion urging the government to stop the demolition work pending fresh consultation and study of ideas for keeping the clock tower at the site. They jumped on the bandwagon, bashing the government for its failure to fully consult interested parties and society at large about its plan to pull down the clock tower. The government played hardball with the protesters by making arrests and forcibly removing some, and hit back at criticism that it had not consulted people adequately. In an article published in most newspapers, Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung called for rational debate 'instead of just blindly blaming the government for inadequate consultation or maliciously accusing us of hiding information'. The restoration and demolition arrangements, he insisted, had been determined after lengthy public consultation and conducted in accordance with statutory procedures. He recalled the history of the Central reclamation, dating to 1999, which included extensive consultations and meetings to gather the views of, among others, the Legislative Council, the Town Planning Board, Central and Western District Council and the Star Ferry Company. Calls for a rethink of the decision or a delay in the demolition were therefore unjustified, he said. If the government bowed to pressure from protesters, it would severely undermine the integrity of the established rules and systems. Few doubt that government officials stuck to the rules in handling the Central reclamation plan. The government's defence, however, has become increasingly vulnerable to the big changes in civil society. The clock tower standoff raises the question of whether the present system is able to respond to the public's changing aspirations on issues such as heritage protection, and the related issue of Hong Kong's identity, and greater participation in decision-making. As the standoff dragged on, Legco and statutory advisory bodies such as the Antiquities Advisory Board, which should reflect public opinion, were fingered for their failure to feel society's pulse. While few may support the actions taken by the protesters to halt the demolition, their quixotic move to save a symbol of society's collective memory has received a degree of moral support because many people doubt the government's determination and competence to maintain the city's character, identity and image. Superficially, the ingredients of success of the former colonial government in managing society's expectations, namely an advisory committee system that includes Legco, remain an integral part of the political system. The fact that several spontaneous protests driven by fears that the government has only paid lip service to heritage have already shaken the advisory and consultative system, however, is a reminder of the city's governance problem. The 49-year-old clock tower will be consigned to history. The scenes this past week of clashes between government and the public could be the shape of things to come - albeit in a more civilised form - given that the city has a system of governance which is unable to resolve the contradictions between development and heritage conservation.