August 26, 2006

Unveiled: new look for waterfront

NG KANG-CHUNG and FELIX CHAN

The government has released its long-awaited blueprint for the Wan Chai waterfront, including the controversial Central-Wan Chai bypass.

The HK$20 billion plan released yesterday will involve the reclamation of 15 hectares of Victoria Harbour and will create a new waterfront with promenades and recreation parks.

The main feature will be a 4km promenade divided into five "character precincts".

To the east of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will be a "water park precinct", with fountains, an amphitheatre, and alfresco dining cafes, while the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter will form a "heritage precinct", with a new landscaped deck linking with Victoria Park.

Under the so-called tunnel option, the new expressway will go under the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, under the rock anchors of the Cross Harbour Tunnel and run underwater to the east of the typhoon shelter in Causeway Bay before surfacing to connect with the Island Eastern Corridor.

While officials said this option involved the least reclamation, some harbour activists remain dissatisfied, maintaining that any reclamation was unacceptable.

The plan forms a core part of the project to build a new expressway connecting Central and Causeway Bay to cope with increased traffic on Hong Kong island.

Transport authorities have warned that it could take as long as 45 minutes by car to travel from Central to Causeway Bay by 2011 if no new road is built to ease traffic.

Briefing Town Planning Board members on the design yesterday, Ma Lee-tak, a project manager with the Civil Engineering and Development Department, said this was the best plan, requiring the least reclamation to build a new link while beautifying much of the waterfront.

"It does not require any part of the corridor to be demolished or the tearing down of any part of Victoria Park. More importantly, it complies with the requirements of the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance and the Court of Final Appeal judgment," Mr Ma said.

The waterfront saga dates back to 1989, when it was proposed that 100 hectares of seabed be reclaimed to create an area of up to 300 metres wide from Causeway Bay to Central for office developments, roads and a sewerage system.

The project was put on hold in the 1990s when funding was channelled to the new airport project. Following the handover, the project was put on hold again after environmental activists took the government to court and the Court of Final Appeal ruled in 2004 against harbour reclamation unless it meets the test of overriding public need.

After the ruling, the government revised its plan, proposing various options including one that required reclamation of 25 hectares.

Members of the public will be consulted on the latest design in the next two months. The government hopes to release a finalised design by the end of the year.

According to the plan, construction work is expected to start in early 2009 and the new-look harbourfront completed by 2015.

Town Planning Board member Bernard Lim Wan-fung welcomed the design but urged the department to build more walkways to link the new waterfront with existing developed areas in the district.

"Whatever beautiful facilities you are going to provide for the public, it is most important that people can have easy access to the new waterfront, or else it will become another piece of dead land," he said.

Legislator and Action Group on Protection of the Harbour spokesman Kwok Ka-ki said: "I am disappointed by [the government's] insistence on reclamation for the bypass. Moreover, I do not see any justification for spending HK$20 billion on this project."

SCMP.com is the premier information resource on Greater China. With a click, you will be able to access information on Business, Markets, Technology and Property in the territory. Bookmark SCMP.com for more insightful and timely updates on Hong Kong, China, Asia and the World. Voted the Best Online newspaper outside the US and brought to you by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's premier English language news source.