Views of the public should be heeded for the future of the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront

While the promenade is in need of a renewal, it is a public area owned by Hong Kong people and their opinion must be taken into account

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 February, 2016, 12:22am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 February, 2016, 1:42am

When it comes to development versus preservation of open access around Victoria Harbour, officials know they may be venturing into a minefield of public opinion. The harbour does belong to the people, after all. A case in particular is the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. Though highly popular with tourists and locals alike it is increasingly seen by return visitors as jaded and in need of renewal. Redevelopment therefore seemed a good idea in principle. But a plan for a developer to do so has proved so controversial that the government has finally scrapped it.

The crux of the problem is scarcely credible nowadays - there was no proper public consultation nor open tender. The oversight is a measure of how times have changed since 2003 when, amid Sars and an economic slowdown, the government granted New World Development the exclusive right to build and manage the Avenue of Stars at the waterfront when positive news was at a premium.

It was not much of an issue then. But a plan for a non-profit-making company set up by New World to develop and manage an extension to the waterfront that would transform the promenade into a dining, film and performance boulevard was highly controversial. This prompted the government to hold a two-stage public consultation, which found that people wanted fewer structures on the promenade so they had more space in which to stroll with unobstructed views of the harbour. Nearby hotels and other businesses complained about loss of sea views. As a result the second stage of the consultation has been abandoned. Under a revised, scaled-down design the waterfront and Avenue of Stars will get a facelift and renovation.

It remains baffling why the government did not consult the public, given complex issues of public access, land use and business interests, and previous strife over awarding business deals without open tender. That said, it does not mean that the question cannot be revisited with due regard for two factors that need to be reconciled - the waterfront is a public area owned by Hong Kong people, and the government is right to maintain that such a prime tourist attraction is more efficiently managed by the private sector. Tsim Sha Tsui, facing the towers and peaks of Hong Kong Island, at the end of the Star Ferry ride, is symbolic of Hong Kong tourism. In the long run the government should launch a more thorough consultation and collect public views on how to turn it into a better site for tourist attractions.