Hong Kong’s prized waterfront should receive more creative input from the private sector, taking reference from Singapore and other port cities to move away from “boring” and rigid government-run spaces, official advisers have said. Members of the Harbourfront Commission, a watchdog supported by the Development Bureau, spoke after Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced a HK$6 billion (US$764 million) boost to extend and enhance promenades on both sides of Victoria Harbour. The work will be carried out over the next decade to achieve an interconnected waterfront. Commission members raised the need to harness the private sector’s creativity and flexibility, as well as to learn from other countries and cities, to make public spaces along the water’s edge in Hong Kong more fun and enjoyable. Waterfront boost expected in coming budget address by Hong Kong finance chief Officials are also looking into collaborating with private companies to design, build and manage such sections in Wan Chai and Hung Hom. “Looking forward, as we extend the harbourfront, if we stick to the government’s monotonous management style, it will just be very boring,” commission chairman Vincent Ng Wing-shun said in an interview with the Post . If we stick to the government’s monotonous management style, it will just be very boring Vincent Ng, Harbourfront Commission chairman “Private participation in managing public spaces should be encouraged, since they have a lot of innovative designs and are not subject to rigid laws.” The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has been accused of excessive management of major sections of the city’s developed harbourfront. This was largely because the department was bound by what critics say is an outdated law, the Pleasure Grounds Regulation, that prohibits various activities ranging from sitting on grass to walking dogs. “We’re not saying [the department] is doing a bad job … but they have a lot of restrictions imposed on them, and such ways of managing the harbourfront aren’t conducive to making it vibrant,” Ng said. An architect by profession, he cited some privately run portions as success stories, such as the newly reopened Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui – Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame – with a multibillion-dollar makeover by New World Development, and the Central harbourfront, where parcels of land are temporarily leased out to private operators. In recent years, the Central strip has been home to Clockenflap , the city’s biggest music festival showcasing world-famous artists, and the AIA Carnival, a temporary mini theme park with rides and circus performances. Hong Kong’s version of Hollywood Walk of Fame to reopen after three-year revamp The HK$6 billion reserved in the budget will be spent on extending promenades along either side of Victoria Harbour by a total of 13km – almost two-thirds of the 21km already open to the public. This extension comprises nine projects, six of which are on Hong Kong Island: five prime sites spanning 16 hectares in Wan Chai after the completion of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass; and a 2km boardwalk linking North Point to Quarry Bay. The remaining three on the Kowloon side are a 15-hectare public park in Kai Tak – a major redevelopment area on the former airport site – and promenades in Cha Kwo Ling and Tsuen Wan. Officials are mulling over a partnership with NGOs running water sports facilities to manage a proposed water sports hub at the Wan Chai basin, according to a government source. Another potential job for public-private collaboration would be transforming an old bus interchange in Hung Hom into a public park. Commission member Paul Zimmerman said it would be crucial for the government to foot the bill for infrastructure works, even if they outsourced it to developers to build and run the site. “A lot of the infrastructure work in making the waterfront usable is expensive,” he said. “If you ask an NGO or a private company to [pay], it basically means they have to run commercial operations to [make back costs on] these expensive infrastructure developments … which would be wrong.” Zimmerman added that operators should be reviewed every five years to ensure that the government had a degree of control over their performance and could replace them if necessary. Good sense finally dawns on Hong Kong’s sadly neglected iconic waterfront He also said Hong Kong could learn from how Singapore used a public-private partnership model to manage the Singapore River, a popular, bustling nightlife stretch. One local example of this was in 2012, when property owners, business operators and residents formed a partnership with the Urban Renewal Authority, to take charge of a number of initiatives ranging from water taxi services to organising year-round events for visitors. Ng said another aspect that Hong Kong could study in places such as Singapore, Sydney and Copenhagen involved barrier-free access to harbours. Can you feel it? The new energy along Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour “In other places, people can sit by the harbourfront with a drink and dip their feet into the water. Here, people are separated by railings,” Ng said. He said he hoped future developments could allow people to get closer to the water, such as through sunbathing, swimming and dragon boat racing. Hong Kong has long struggled to link its waterfront without a powerful, one-stop regulatory body. Some 38km of the city’s 73km total coastline has now been identified for or is already opened as promenades. The remaining sections are natural coasts or already developed for port facilities and private residential estates. But Ng said that, after more than a decade of work, the pieces were falling into place. A “water taxi” service, shuttling passengers between five stops on a circular route in the harbour, is also slated to run this September. “These things didn’t happen overnight. Now the stars are aligned – the timing is right, we have the land and the commitment, we just have to do it,” Ng said.