Press Release: Civil Society Declares Victory

An alliance of groups has successfully called on Legislative Council members to rethink the development for Tamar and the Central Harbour-front. At the special meeting of the Panel of Planning, Lands and Works held this morning (17 December 2005), participating panel members have passed a motion moved by The Hon. K. K. Kwok on urging the Government to review its present proposals for the development of Tamar and the Central Harbour-front and to conduct review with due public consultation before taking any further steps.
 
The alliance of groups include the following organisations and individuals: Civic Exchange, Clear The Air (CTA), Designing Hong Kong Harbour District (DHKHD), Friends of the Earth (FoE), Friends of the Harbour, Save Our Shorelines (SOS), Society for Protection of the Harbour (SPH), WWF Hong Kong, Dr. Bill Barron, John Batten, Norman de Brackinghe, and Santa Raymond. They have joined forces to express their concerns about the Government’s proposals for the development of Tamar and the Central Harbour-front.
 
They presented their views on the Tamar Development Project and the Land-use Planning for Central Reclamation Phase III to Members of the Legislative Council at the special meeting of the Planning, Lands and Works Panel.
 
Mr. Paul Zimmerman, Convenor of Designing Hong Kong Harbour District, demonstrated visually the problems with the current plans. He also showed photographs of harbour-fronts in cities in China and Taiwan, as well as Europe, USA and Australia, in order to demonstrate what Hong Kong can achieve with the last available land around Victoria Harbour.
 
He acknowledged that it is a brave move to dedicate ‘some of the most expensive land in the world for public parks and open spaces’, but that overseas experiences show that a ‘magnificent urban space along Hong Kong’s world famous harbour’ can create economic and social value of a much greater order. He called on the HKSAR Government to recognize that after decades of reclamation, a new process of planning is required to fix Hong Kong’s urban, transport and harbour planning. 
 
The ‘Stop and Rethink’ alliance urged the HKSAR Government to review the outline zoning and development plans before committing to start building. Given that the HKSAR Government has decided that there would be no further reclamation after the Central Reclamation Phase III (CRIII) and Wanchai Development Phase II (WDII), a review is legitimate for land-use and development parameters for the last available land along Hong Kong Island’s north shore.
 
“We urge the Government not to rush into schemes it has plainly not thought through and instead take the time to exploit the much larger potential gains from reviewing the Central OZP to transform the Harbour-front into a pleasant and vibrant human experience”, said Christine Loh, Chief Executive Officer, Civic Exchange.
 
The organisations and individuals also explained in detail their concerns over traffic congestion and environmental issues generated by the intensive development of Tamar and adjacent sites. According to a recent report prepared by Transport Department, this development will add almost 10 million sq. ft. of gross floor area and will attract an additional 7,623 vehicle trips per hour to Central. However, even if all the proposed roads are built, in particular the super highway known as P2, traffic will again be saturated by 2016.
 
“Government Lands Policy for the area in and near Tamar, which would move tens of thousands of more jobs into the Central Waterfront area, strains transport to the breaking point, undermines environmental objectives and ignores sound principles of urban planning. Please, let us not be fooled again by Government assurances that this fix will finally solve the problem. It will not!” said Dr. Bill Barron Institute for the Environment of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.
 
The Chairman of SOS, John Bowden added, “The new proposed road capacity is the same as in the metro plan developed in the mid 80’s. However, occupation and density have been reduced significantly. Then why do we need the same roads? We should question the proposed over-capacity and over-provision of surface roads in the CRIII area. Stop and think. This is why we need a full review of transport provisions in light of reduced development plans and projections. The Government should maximise land-use for public open space and harbour oriented land uses, not for redundant road capacity.”
 
Air pollution in Central is already bad (for example: both the annual average of RSP and NO2 are about 40% higher than the AQO standard in 2004) and it will get worse once the new government offices are built at the Tamar site and the surrounding district developed. 
 
Air quality modelling expert Dr. Jimmy Fung of CTA and HKUST says the Government’s pollution model pretends Central is a flat surface’ with no tall buildings and ignores the fact that pollution gets trapped. In other words, pollution predictions on the Tamar site and the Central Reclamation Phase III were based on 1999 data plugged into a prediction model that assumes Central has no buildings. This means that official
figures seriously underestimate the pollution levels people will face in Central – air pollution could be three times higher than predicted by the Environmental Protection Department’s 2001 environmental impact assessment (EIA) report. “We will not accept anything from the Government regarding the Tamar site until the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for CRIII is updated with recent, actual air pollution data using a
newer, proper model. The time needed to produce such report would only take about three months and cost HK$300,000. There is no need for the Government to rush in proceeding the Tamar development,” said Dr. Fung.
 
The Chairman of WWF, Markus Shaw added, “The issue is not a small matter. Since this will be the last reclamation along the Central waterfront, we only have one chance to get it right: we are literally planning a Harbour-front for a Thousand Years’. The Government’s usual development model (‘Roads and Buildings!’) is not going to get us there. The NGOs have been branded ‘anti-development’: that’s not true. What we are proposing is a different model of development that is more in tune with Hong Kong in the 21st Century: truly sustainable development and enhanced quality-of-life. This is what will make Hong Kong the kind of “world city” where people want to live and work, that will attract the world’s most talented people to come here.”
 
In regard to Government’s promises, the adviser of SPH, Winston Chu, pointed out three major commitments that the Government has made to the people of Hong Kong by various policy statements and publications. Firstly, to enhance the harbour and the harbour-front and to make Hong Kong into Asia’s world city. Secondly, the Central Reclamation is only for the purpose of resolving traffic congestion. Thirdly, to make the harbour-front vibrant and accessible for the enjoyment of the people. 
 
“The review should be comprehensive so that the whole of the Central Harbour-front should be considered in the light of the Government’s stated policies AND the recent Court of Final Appeal Judgment,” said Mr. Chu. The ‘recent Court of Final Appeal Judgment’ that he is referring to was carried on 25 October 2005, “That the Panel demands the Government shall substantially reduce the amount of area for commercial uses under Central Reclamation Phase III; prohibit the use of the reclaimed land for any commercial developments such as office premises, hotels etc; and rezone the relevant sites to ‘Open Space’. All reclaimed land should be designated for public use in line with the people-oriented principle.”
 
Furthermore, Hardy Lok, Director of SPH, stated that the Government cannot ignore the decision directed by the Town Planning Board, “The Board announced on 5th August 2005 that the Government should reconsider the planning and design briefs for this important waterfront, in particular the groundscraper and the waterfront related commercial and leisure uses sites.” “There is no justification for the Government to deliberately make problems in the future for Hong Kong for which there is no ready solution,” he added.