Cycling enthusiast Martin Turner has waited a long time for the Hong Kong Island waterfront to have a biking path offering views of Victoria Harbour. So he cheered when, in 2008, the government suggested building a boardwalk under Island East Corridor, the highway along the harbour’s northeastern shore at North Point. Then, nothing happened. Now the boardwalk will only be completed in stages from next year. “It’s 15 years later, and we’re still waiting,” said Turner, 61, a marketing consultant and chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance. Describing Victoria Harbour as “the heart of Hong Kong”, he said: “If cycling is encouraged and supported, people can actually enjoy the whole harbourfront as a leisure entity.” The boardwalk proposal has been held up because under the city’s Protection of the Harbour Ordinance (PHO), it is considered a reclamation project. Law change floated to pave way for reclamation work at Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour That meant studies had to be done, public consultations held, and proposals formulated to ensure it complied with the law. The project’s HK$1.7 billion (US$216.6 million) construction fee only obtained approval from the legislature two years ago. Enacted in 1997, the ordinance forbids reclamation at Victoria Harbour unless projects are proven to have an “overriding public need” and are supported by “cogent and convincing materials”. The law has been accused of being too restrictive, preventing even minor work from being carried out if some reclamation is involved. The administration proposed last month to amend the law to provide flexibility for small-scale reclamation to improve the waterfront. The move has been welcomed by some harbourfront advisers, but concern groups have called for caution. Vincent Ng Wing-shun, chairman of the Harbourfront Commission, said the ordinance protected the harbour, but it was hard to prove the vital public need of many improvement projects. “If we want to add two more harbour steps to increase accessibility, it will go beyond the boundary and involve reclamation,” he said. “Does it have an overriding public interest? We won’t die without it, but it will improve the design.” ‘5 years is too long’: Hong Kong families decry temporary closure of promenade He said the government did not dare propose such improvements as it may be challenged because of the requirements of the law. Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn Hon-ho said last month that the law would be amended to introduce a simple mechanism for handling small-scale reclamation related to harbourfront improvements, such as piers and boardwalks. She stressed that the government had no intention of reclaiming the harbour for land production. Ng said even minor works exempted from the public need test would still be monitored by the commission and the legislature, and amending the law could encourage the government to proceed with other promenade projects. He gave the examples of building piers in Kowloon Bay to connect the tip of the Kai Tak runway, and having a waterway to reach the museums and leisure area at the West Kowloon Cultural District. Commission member Winston Chu Ka-sun, vice-chairman of the Society for Protection of the Harbour, said he was not against amending the law but wanted the bottom line spelled out clearly. The 83-year-old lawyer and members of the society initiated a bill in 1996 to ban reclamation at the harbour, and that eventually became the ordinance. It saved Victoria Harbour from reclamation projects proposed by the government to create a total of 600 hectares (1,483 acres) at various locations . He has submitted to the government a draft of amendments to the law, regarding restricted works to be exempted. Legislator Alice Mak ‘wrong’ on scaling back harbour protection: concern group Chu rejected reclamation to build waterfront football pitches or basketball courts, but agreed to minor reclamation for infrastructural works required “as a harbour”, such as docks for access and promenades for enjoying the waterfront. “It is not about the needs or benefits of the residents, but the need of the harbour,” he said. He added that he would oppose any attempt by the government to take advantage of amending the law to carry out large-scale reclamation. He said the ordinance enshrined Victoria Harbour’s status as a “special public asset” and the “natural heritage” of Hongkongers, giving the public the right to reject unreasonable infrastructure works. Liber Research Community, an NGO focused on development issues, had reservations about the proposed amendment and urged the government to reveal the list of exemptions. “The ordinance isn’t a red tape but a shield. Some harbourfront resources can be abused, such as having a private yacht club the general public cannot access or a music fountain residents do not want,” group founder Chan Kim-ching said. He was also concerned that the amendment would pave the way for controversial mega-reclamation projects, such as the proposed temporary reclamation off the Belcher Bay Promenade in Kennedy Town for road construction to link the city with three artificial islands coming up off Lantau Island. Popular Hong Kong promenade to close for 5 years under new proposal Chan said the authorities had exaggerated the time needed to prove the public need of harbour projects, as consultation took only a few months whereas the government spent years on planning and construction. A Development Bureau spokeswoman told the Post it would define the scope of harbourfront enhancement projects, and those excluded would continue to be subjected to the public need test. She said the amendment was intended to streamline procedures for smaller scale harbourfront enhancement projects. “It remains the government’s position not to initiate large-scale reclamation within the harbour to form land for uses such as public infrastructure, housing, commercial or industrial developments,” she said.