Fighting Tamar: Civic Opportunity in Hong Kong Laura Manville Civic Exchange Intern August 2006 On June 26, 2006, the Legislative Council (Legco) of Hong Kong allocated HK$5.2 billion for the Tamar project in Central’s waterfront, closing a chapter of an eight‐year debate between urban planners, environmentalists, government bureaucrats, and politicians. The newly approved Tamar site will hold new Central Government Offices and form an integral part of Central’s new waterfront scheme, built mostly upon reclaimed harbour land and including commercial, recreational, and public uses, as well as a major roadway. The completion of Central Reclamation (Phase III), and the concurrent opening of the Tamar offices, will greatly affect the human experience at Hong Kong’s dramatic waterfront. Thanks to the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, it will also likely mark the end of reclamation in Central. For this reason, many see the plans for these projects as crucial—a “last chance”—to make Victoria Harbour the lively, successful waterfront that “Asia’s World City” deserves. It is a self‐evident proposition that all citizens of Hong Kong, whether government officials or the average resident, have a stake in assuring the Harbour’s success, and act in this interest. But the wide range of visions for the harbourfront by civic groups, planning officials, and other parties, resulted in a long and confrontational process of approval marked by lawsuits, protests, media squabbles, and legislative hold‐ups. As an impressively widespread and longstanding problem in Hong Kong city politics, the so‐called the “White Elephant” of the Tamar project (and the accompanying harbour reclamation efforts in Central) became symbolic of certain tensions and relationships between Hong Kong citizens and the Government. When the Legco put its stamp of approval on a large‐scale project whose plans were blurry in details and opposed by many citizen groups, the body disappointed those who had been hoping for a reprieve from the type of unilateral governmental decision so favored by both British and Hong Kong politicians in the SAR’s past. In the months to follow the vote, some voices proclaimed sadly that Chief Executive Donald Tsang (“Sir Donald”) had gotten his way. One argued that “Tamar had the potential to give words to the voice of democracy,” but that by shutting out” Hong Kong’s middle class, “Mr. Tsang sent a powerful signal about the way he intends to run Hong Kong in the future.”1 In this light, the “loss” of Tamar not only bodes poorly for the waterfront’s future, but also for the democratic spirit of Hong Kong’s people. But the development of a participatory civic society is a journey, and not a destination. As one who saw first‐hand the reactions of some of the Tamar activists in the days following the vote, I observed that pessimism was the exception. Instead, looking forward to the next challenge was the order of the day. The skills of dissent learned by civic groups (some led by seasoned advocates and some started by people wholly unschooled in Hong Kong politics, let alone urban planning) and the public will prove extremely applicable in the many urban planning debates that face Hong Kong in the coming years. Those Hongkongers interested in democratizing their society have a practical way to practice that vision within the town planning system; and the process of advocating against Tamar acted as an effective training course for the public and civic leaders on how to do so effectively. It is well to caution that, as a case study for dissent and community organizing, the Central Reclamation Phase III and the Tamar site approval processes have their special considerations. The Central (Extension) Outline Zoning Plan, which gives full legal authority for the construction of the Tamar project and adjoining roads, was approved through the appropriate town planning mechanisms in 1998, including the requisite public participation process, however minimal (see Adrian Ho, “Scuttling Hopes for Hong Kong’s Tamar,” Far Eastern Economic Review (July 2006), 53.
Section B). The process had gotten as far as pre‐qualifying tenderers for building in 2003 without much public attention. However, as with other Government projects in Hong Kong, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic ground the plans for Tamar to a halt. Therefore, when Chief Executive Donald Tsang announced in October 2005 that the plans for the new Government Offices would go forward, the government was able to bypass a second round of public participation processes. The evolution of civic society in Hong Kong that occurred between 1998 and 2004 resulted in a very different outcome than Donald Tsang might have expected given the comfortable legal status of his plan. Tamar is, in the words of one activist, a legacy from days in Hong Kong when government decisions were rarely challenged or noticed by the public. 2 This attitude began to change dramatically in 2003. Observers of Hong Kong politics often argue that the July 1st march of 2003 was a turning point in the city’s civic self‐awareness. When half a million Hongkongers turned out in the summer heat to protest Article 23, a law that would limit civic freedoms, they exposed the tenuous stereotype that people in the SAR are apolitical, and sparked an awakening of civic interest that has continued to grow. This important shift also coincided with the rise of the harbour as a point of political interest, due in large part to the media flurry over a proposed Cultural District in West Kowloon. Between December 2003 and November 2005, there were no less than 724 major media stories about the harbour by the six leading publications in Hong Kong. A literature review found that key themes of these articles included public opinion, prosperity, environmental concerns, and city heritage and identity—revealing that the average Hong Kong resident takes interest in the harbour’s well‐being for personal, practical reasons as well as in the abstract.3 The relevance of the issue was clear as civic groups joined older ones in this cause, channeling the swells of public opinion into dedicated avenues of activism and education. By 2005, instead of accepting the Central Reclamation and Tamar site redevelopment as a done deal, community groups forced the issue out into the media and other spaces for public debate. In August of that year, there were three different proposed amendments to the outline zoning plan by three of these groups: Society for Protection of the Harbour (SPH), Save Our Shorelines (SOS), and Clear the Air (CTA). The Town Planning Board rejected all three, but the issues were finally being widely discussed. The result of such efforts was a process of public discussion and public attention that did not conform to the prescribed, governmental avenues, but revealed the possibilities for dissent in other forms. This process continued unabated through the summer of 2006, and promises to flourish in new forms as other plans involving Victoria Harbour come up for review in future years. This is the positive legacy of Tamar. Background History of the projects Since planning at the Central waterfront encompasses several ongoing projects, it is crucial to understand what exactly is meant by the terms and plans circulated in the public domain and why each of these incurs so much debate. This section gives a short explanation of the Tamar and Central reclamation projects on the backdrop of the formal town planning processes of Hong Kong. It would be impossible to achieve a project of Tamar’s scale without the 18 hectares of land freed up by Central Reclamation Phase III (CRIII), the third phase of the comprehensive harbour Conversation with John Bowden of Save Our Shorelines, July 2006. Harbour Business Forum, “Victoria Harbour Project‐ Public Opinion Survey,” available online at http://www.harbourbusinessforum.com/eng/pos.asp, July 2006. 2 3
reclamation authorized by the Town Planning Board during the 1980s. The five‐step plan currently in progress includes land “reclamation”— the filling in of sub‐aquatic land in Victoria Harbour—in both Central and Wanchai, whereof two of the Central phases have already been completed.4 Phase III began in the winter of 2003 and will eventually create 18 hectares of newly usable land. Importantly, Central Reclamation III marks the last time that new land on the harbourfront in Central is likely to be created, thanks to the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance of 1997: any further reclamation in Victoria Harbour must be deemed to meet “a compelling, overriding and present public need that clearly outweigh(s) the public need to protect the harbour.”5 It is difficult to imagine such a large‐ scale project being deemed publicly necessary in these circumstances, especially after the raise in environmental awareness accomplished by certain of the NGOs active in the Tamar debate. The Tamar site, called so because it was formerly the docking point for a British ship of that name, lies in Admiralty, until recently separated from the water only by a two lane access road. These desirable 4.2 hectares of centrally located land have been vacant for over nine years. In 2000, the Outline Zoning Plan for the area was first drafted (it has since been changed several times), and in April 2002 the Executive Council (Exco) approved it for the site of new government office building. The site is zoned for 2 hectares of “Open Space” and 2.2 hectares of “Government” uses. 6 The approved Tamar government complex (also called the Central Government Offices, CGO) will help relieve the government’s current shortage of office space, which was identified as a problem as long ago as 1990. The current plan calls not only for a new Government office building, but also for a new Legco building and as‐of‐yet unarticulated “waterfront‐related commercial and leisure uses.” Because of the concentration of non‐commercial uses, its valuable location, and the history of the development decision, what is built on the Tamar site will hold great symbolic importance for the city of Hong Kong. The final piece in this urban planning puzzle will be the construction of two large road projects: P2 and the Central‐Wanchai Bypass. According to the Government’s booklet “Meeting Essential Traffic Needs,” the Bypass is a necessary public expenditure because of the enormity of traffic congestion in downtown Hong Kong. By 2011, they calculate, a taxi ride from Central to Causeway Bay will cost $80 HK. (Presumably, it will still take less than 10 minutes and $5 on the MTR.) A direct route between Central and the eastern portion of the island of Hong Kong is currently lacking. Although environmental groups and other activists advocated electronic road pricing (tolls), more centralized bus interchanges, the accelerated construction of the Northern Island MTR line, and other methods of traffic control, the government ultimately rejected these options as unsustainable.7 Ironically, P2 and the CWB may only hold escalating traffic counts for another ten years, at which point other transport options will have to be taken advantage of.8 Anson Lau, writing for Civic
Hong Kong Housing Planning and Lands Bureau, “History of Central Reclamation Phase III,” available online at http://www.hplb.gov.hk/reclamation/images/cr3booklet/history.pdf, July 2006. 5 Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, available online at http://www.hklii.hk/hk/legis/en/ord/531/s3.html, July 2006. 6 Legislative Council Secretariat, “Background Brief on Future Development on the Tamar Site,” 22 November 2005, available online at http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr05‐06/english/panels/plw/papers/plw1122cb1‐289‐5e.pdf, July 2006. 7 See “History of Central Reclamation III,” available online at http://www.hplb.gov.hk/reclamation/images/cr3booklet/history.pdf ; also Bill Barron, Simon Ka‐wing Ng, Christine Loh, and Richard Gilbert, “Sustainable Transport in Hong Kong: Directions and Opportunities” (Civic Exchange, 2002), 86. 8 Civic Exchange, “Central Park: City Users and Public Space,” available online at http://www.civic‐ exchange.org/publications/2006/centralpark.pdf, July 2006. 4
Exchange, found that 30% of the Central‐Tamar area would be taken up by asphalt road surfaces under the government’s plan, as well as a full 20% of the Central Reclamation III area.9 Government Responses The official Government response to criticisms like those written by Lau and civic groups is sometimes characterized by benevolent bemusement. “Some green groups claim that CRIII works are seriously polluting the environment. Is that true?” reads a “Frequently Asked Question” in one Government pamphlet. The official response: “An Environmental Impact Assessment confirms that the project will have no long‐term adverse effects on the environment.” Another question asks, “Given the controversy over Harbour reclamation, why can’t we drop the CRIII altogether and re‐ consider an alternative plan?” Government: “CRIII is a properly authorized project that has gone through very extensive consultations and an elaborate statutory procedure….It is the subject of an awarded contract of 3.8 billion involving 1 100 jobs over the next four years. We do not believe it is reasonable to simply halt the project at this stage….”10 The Government, in the past, has also regretfully avoided giving too many specifics on their vision for the Tamar and harbourfront. In the Legco meeting where $5.2 billion dollars was ultimately allocated to the project, Planning Board officials continuously declined to answer basic questions about the Tamar site plans. They could not even begin to answer what the buildings on Tamar would look like, since the project has been designated “Design and Build,” meaning that the architect (not yet chosen) will work closely with the project managers (the Town Planning Board) to tweak the design as it is being built. An equally large question, what will happen to Government Hill when the Legco is no longer based there, also went unanswered. Some fear that it will be leased to developers for a substantial price, thus altering the historic cityscape of Central to a large degree. Although the fact that Tamar details are still uncertain can be explained away – i.e., the project’s long‐term nature guarantees major urban changes before its completion, the architect has not been chosen, the government wishes to keep plans flexible for future public input— it does not reassure citizens who believe the Government acts questionably on issues of land use policy and urban planning. Why, they ask, would a legislator vote in such sums for a product as yet unseen or fully explained? Whether the answer is fatigue of the discussion, behind‐the‐scene power plays, or simply a confidence that officials always know what’s best for Hong Kong, it is a warning that the road to democratic urban planning is paved with difficulties. Nevertheless, there have been some major policy advances made since the first Tamar project was approved in 1998. The Town Planning Ordinance was revised in 2004 to make the public participation process longer and (at least ostensibly) more transparent. The advisory Harbourfront Enhancement Committee (HEC) was formed in May 2004 as a response to community calls for more involvement in government harbour planning. In addition to members of the Town Planning Board and Planning Department, the Committee includes representatives from interested NGOs and the private sector. It is a purely advisory body, with no statutory power, but perhaps this could change in the future. Meanwhile, it is a crucial platform for parties that were formerly antagonistic to work together for the benefit of the general cause of the harbour. Although these gestures can be cynically explained as symbolic, both the HEC and the Town Planning Board have issued official statements on planning principles for Victoria Harbour. Number one on both lists is the idea that the Harbour is the property of people of Hong Kong. This, combined with the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance and 9 Anson Lau, “Measuring the Tamar‐Central Controversey,” June 2006, available online at http://www.civic‐ exchange.org/publications/2006/measuringroads.pdf, 3. 10 Hong Kong Housing, Planning, and Lands Bureau, “Frequently Asked Questions,” available online at http://www.hplb.gov.hk/reclamation/images/cr3booklet/faq.pdf, July 2006.
its potential for legal recourse, holds promise that, in the future, decisions affecting the Harbour can grow more in line with the public’s desires. Public Participation in Hong Kong’s Urban Planning Mechanisms Thanks to the education of the public through Central waterfront issues, many more citizens than before now understand the town planning process and the jargon associated with it. However, there is still work to be done. As a highly bureaucratic and political enterprise, urban planning can be opaque at times; this is especially true in Hong Kong, where government officials are just recently acting with an eye towards legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Recent (2004) amendments to the Town Planning Ordinance attempt to make the procedures of public participation more transparent, but they would remain fairly inaccessible to the average citizen without mediation from media and civic groups. This section will first examine the formal plan‐making process, focusing specifically on the opportunities for public comment under the Town Planning Ordinance (amended in 2004). It will compare the old process, under which the Central OZP and Tamar was approved, with the new process in order to illuminate for interested civic groups their openings for comment and possibilities for effecting change. In the next section (C), I will discuss three approaches to voicing dissent over Central Reclamation III, and lessons learned from those approaches. Finally, I hope to make some conclusions about possibilities for civic engagement on urban planning issues in the future, and reflect on the importance of Tamar in Hong Kong’s civic development. Any planning decision by the Town Planning Board must begin with an Outline Zoning Plan, or OZP, a legal document that prescribes permitted and prohibited land uses for the area in technical detail. The decision to write a new OZP must originate with the Chief Executive, but the drafting itself is performed under the purview of the Town Planning Board (TPB). The Board is comprised of 40 members, all appointed by the Chief Executive, with a term of service of approximately two years. 11 Many come from the private sector, but seven of those are government officials (also appointed), including the Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning, and Lands, and the Deputy Director of Planning/District. The TPB is a separate entity from the Hong Kong Government Planning Office, although the Director of Planning is required by law to facilitate the preparation of whatever plans the Board asks for. 12 The Chief Executive therefore, by history and process, is intrinsically tied to planning decisions from their very inception. In the case of the Central Waterfront Reclamation and Tamar site redevelopment, the current Outline Zoning Plan was requested by Tung Chee‐Hwa and drafted in early 1998. Once the Draft OZP has been completed, it begins the public exhibition and objection process. First comes the “gazetting” phase, when the draft plan is exhibited for public inspection “at reasonable hours for a period of 2 months. During such period the Board shall advertise once a week in 2 daily Chinese language local newspapers and 1 daily English language local newspaper” with “the place and hours at which such plan may be inspected.”13 The public is invited to examine the plans and to present their “representations” (positive or negative) to the Board during a specified time. Hong Kong Town Planning Ordinance, Ch.131 Sec. 2, available online from http://www.legislation.gov.hk, July 2006. 12 Ibid. 13 Hong Kong Town Planning Ordinance, Ch. 131 Sec. 5, available online from http://www.legislation.gov.hk, July 2006. 11
Although this statute meets a minimum standard for public participation and information‐ dissemination, in reality no one but the most publicly aware and eagle‐eyed citizen would pay mind to the series of 8 advertisements, likely text‐only and unassuming, and written in planning jargon. Even were a member of the public to express interest, they would have to pay a fee to obtain a copy of the complete gazetted plans. This is hardly a situation that intends serious transparency, or public engagement with the plans themselves. If at the end of public inspection process, the Town Planning Board decides that the comments of the public (if any) are without merit, they have full legal right to go on with their original ideas and are not obliged in the least to make changes. The silver lining to the mediocre legal status of the public in Hong Kong’s town planning is that dissent has taken such varied directions outside the legal structures of governance. Central Reclamation III OZP gathered some attention during the public review phase in 1998 and this attention resulted in a very important victory for those who wanted to protect the Harbour. Christine Loh of the Citizen’s Party, having recently celebrated the passing of her Harbour Protection Ordinance, submitted a motion in LegCo in July 1998 demanding “the Government to scale down its present central reclamation plans and to ensure that further land development in the central harbour, if any, will be strictly limited, fully justified and openly planned in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance.”14 The motion passed unanimously, with the effect of a further review of the plans from the government. This was just the first of important advances in limiting reclamation that occurred with legal activism. Thanks to this motion, and the accompanying rise in public awareness, the reclamation area was downgraded from 38 to 23 hectares. Having made these changes, the OZP and Tamar site redevelopment draft plans were approved by the Exco and voted into law by the Legco in 2000. The Tamar timeline for 2002‐3 shows a timely progression of project realization, and by August 2003 the Panel was already accepting tender contributions for prequalification. Until SARS came onto the scene in early 2003, it looked like the Tamar project could indeed be on schedule to meet the target completion date of third quarter 2008. Not only did the Administration pre‐qualify five applicants to be the developer of the site, but the funding for the whole project was considered and endorsed by the Public Works Subcommittee of Legco’s finance committee, a stepping stone to receiving full funding by the Legco. (The amount that they endorsed, slightly less than $5 billion, would two years later spark criticism from surprised legislators but in the end be approved. 15 ) Unfortunately, the government prudently revisited their budget decisions in the throes of the SARS epidemic and put the Tamar project temporarily on hold to “review its spending priorities.”16 Over the next six months administrators continued to defer the project and finally terminated the procurement exercises for tenderers in November.17 Nonetheless, the Tamar project was never abandoned. In every press release and report, it was emphasized that a new Central Government Complex was a necessary public expenditure, and that the Tamar site was the only acceptable site for such a complex. But in the relative quiet for the next year and a half, non‐governmental organizations took up the challenge of changing finalized policy, and their mobilization proved to be one of the most interesting facets of this story. Legislative Council Proceedings, July 29, 1998, available online at http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr98‐ 99/english/counmtg/agenda/ord2907.htm#m_6, July 2006. 15 Leslie Kwok, “Lawmakers floored as Tamar HQ Soars in Size,” The Standard (April 26, 2006), available online at http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=11&art_id=17391&sid=7665309&con_type=1# 16 Press Release, “Tamar Development Project Put On Hold Temporarily,” May 26, 2003, available online at http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200305/26/0526174.htm, July 2006. 17 Press Release, “Tamar Development Project Deferred,” November 29, 2003, available online at http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200311/19/1119080.htm, July 2006. 14
The Role of Non‐Governmental and Civic Organizations To identify the evolution of the public’s interest in and opinion of the Tamar site redevelopment and Central Reclamation III, I will examine three examples of research and reports from civic organizations in Hong Kong that sought to provide a counter‐argument or example to the government’s plan for the area. Legal Pressure: Society for Protection of the Harbour’s Lawsuits and the Save Our Shorelines Rezoning Request In some cases, it has proved possible for civic groups to combat the highly legalistic mechanisms for approving planning projects such as Central Reclamation and the Central‐Wanchai Bypass within the legal system. Thanks to the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance and the strong legal precedent of one case filed by the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, it has been established that Hong Kong’s waterfront has legitimate status as public property, and future efforts to block damaging development can take advantage of this precedent. The legal mechanisms of town planning also have potential for dissent, as explained in the previous section. Although such mechanisms failed activists in the case of Tamar, there is some hope that the revisions to the Town Planning Ordinance and accompanying public awareness of the public participation process will be useful to effect change in future cases. SPH, founded in 1995 by Jennifer Chow, Winston Chu, and Christine Loh, is dedicated solely to “protecting our Victoria Harbour from destruction through Government’s excessive reclamation.”18 The SPH, aided by the legislative and legal expertise of its members, waged a particularly important legal battle in December‐January 2004 with a legal challenge to the validity of the Wanchai Development II reclamation efforts. The project had been gazetted under the town planning process, but not yet been sent to the office of the Chief Executive. The result of this lawsuit was very positive for the cause of SPH and related groups: the judge, C. Chu, declared that the Town Planning Board “ha[d] failed to comply with section 3 of the PHO [Protection of the Harbour Ordinance} in proposing the scale of reclamation of the Harbour set out in the [Wanchai Outline Zoning] Plan as amended.” In the Court of Final Appeal the following year, SPH’s victory was reiterated when the judge upheld this decision and used the platform of final remarks to elaborate on the idea that any reclamation project, pursuant to the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, must conform to the test of “overriding public need.”19 The judge defined this test very thoroughly in section 44 of the judgment, and the Town Planning Board was sent back to do their plans again. Nevertheless, the victories of Wanchai fell short of halting the reclamation in Central, which was already in process. Another case was brought by SPH in February 2004 against the Chief Executive himself for approving the Central (Extension) OZP under conditions that flouted the law; since the reclamation had already began, this was seen as the best way to set a precedent for overriding unilateral decisions in the future. In addition, argued Loh in her remarks to the court, the Wanchai reclamation would not be able to be fairly judged in its own right if the Central Reclamation kept on, as they are parts of the same endeavor. The judge in the Central case, M.J. Hartmann, wrote that “it is not the function of this court to decide the merits” of the current legal system of urban planning; but strictly to interpret the legality of the Chief Executive’s actions. Within the Town Planning Ordinance, it was decided, the Chief Executive was fully empowered to make urban planning decisions himself, regardless of the recommendation of the Board, and thus had no 18 Society for the Protection of the Harbour, “About Us,” online at http://www.harbourprotection.org/html/all_page_a_eng.htm, July 2006. 19 Decision of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong, Town Planning Board vs. Society for Protection of the Harbour, 2003, available online at http://www.hklii.org/cgi‐hklii/disp.pl/hk/jud/en/hkcfa/2004/FACV000014_2003.html, July 2006.
obligation to remit the OZP to this body, but was fully justified to approve it. Though the Board may have violated the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, the CE was nonetheless well within his legal bounds to proceed with the reclamation after the fact.20 In addition to failing to actually stop the reclamation in Central, this decision disappointed because it now served as a precedent for unilateral action on the part of the Chief Executive. It also showed the need for reforming the Town Planning Ordinance. SOS, also an NGO whose mission is to preserve the waterfront, added their voice to propose changes to the Central (Extension) OZP in 2004‐5. Their legal tactics integrated their environmental visions into a very technical urban planning debate. Their 2004 report demanded the government’s attention with an interpretation of the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance that requires public bodies to “consider cogent and convincing material” that could prove that the ordinance guidelines are not met. These guidelines: that “the purpose and extent of each proposed reclamation ought to be individually assessed by reference to the three tests of (1) compelling overriding and present need, (2) no viable alternative and (3) minimum impairment.”21 Since SOS’s report dealt with a solution for the Central‐Wanchai Bypass which would require less reclamation of harbour land than the government’s plans had claimed necessary, the NGO felt that their cause was provided for under this ordinance and rendered the Tamar project’s current specifications to be illegal. The report outlined in engineering detail the idea of using an Immersed Tube Tunnel (ITT) for the bypass construction, which would reduce significantly (from 18 to 5 hectares) the amount of reclamation needed to build the road. Although an engineering consulting company (Atkins Asia Ltd.) had researched this option and presented a “Concept plan” to the government as part of the planning process, they had ultimately found ITT to have problems that made it an inferior way to construct the CWB. However, SOS claimed that the consultants had failed to explore in sufficient detail solutions for the problems that they identified with this approach. Although the technicalities of the report are interesting, its underlying point is the most salient: that the Government has a responsibility, legally, to thoroughly and fairly consider all of the options it has before proceeding with such a planning decision. What matters, says SOS, is not just the word of consultants; but civic engagement such as this very report is as valid and worthy of official consideration as their own inside data. Sadly, the Town Planning Board rejected this and two other similar legal objections to the OZP in August 2005. Corporate Pressure: Designing Hong Kong Harbour District and the Harbour Business Forum The cause of Victoria Harbour and Central’s waterfront has attracted attention not only from environmental and non‐profit organizations, but also from the city’s corporate players. Apart from an obvious concern towards maintaining the attractiveness of Hong Kong as a city for tourism and business, business interests also lend specific resources: funds for research and publicity, skills to manage campaigns, and special relationships with other players in the city. The Designing Hong Kong Harbour District (DHKHD) report came into existence through the efforts of a small group of people who had no commercial interest or ties to the harbourfront but felt strongly about the reclamation and planning efforts they saw in process around them. To erect a 20 For details see Decision of the the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong, Society for Protection of the Harbour vs. Chief Executive in Council and Others, available online at http://www.hklii.hk/hk/jud/en/hkcfi/2004/HCAL000102A_2003.html, July 2006. 21 See Friends of the Harbour, “Harbour Primer” for a layman’s guide, available online at http://www.friendsoftheharbour.org/protectionord_static_eng.html, July 2006. Technical legal details also available in the court decisions cited above.
constructive framework for re‐thinking the Harbour District, DHKHD coordinators used a formula developed by consultant group Creative Initiatives for their business clients. The formula identifies stakeholders in an issue, includes them in a forum of presentations and discussions, and results in a final set of proposals that are a direct result of consensus building. Hong Kong as a city and planning entity can, according to the concept, benefit from making smarter business decisions. This report’s stakeholders were from many different sectors and political spectrums. Not only were the over 400 participants in the survey from government, business, and civic groups,22 but the sponsors, researchers, and advisors span such a wide variety as consulting firms, transport companies, media outlets, chambers of commerce, art galleries, and NGOs. The stated ideal that Victoria Harbour is a common good, to be shared and used by a broad slice of the Hong Kong population, is vital as a base of civic activism around the Tamar/reclamation issue; and this report provides guidance and specifications for successfully complying with the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance.23 The final reports “demonstrate that community consensus‐building is possible around an issue as complex and controversial as the development on the foreshore of Hong Kong’s Harbour District.” The Hong Kong Harbour Business Forum has taken up a similar approach to voicing opinions about the harbour and has proven to be a very active member of harbour debates. The Forum is a “coalition of diverse businesses whose aim is to influence Government policy and decision making with respect to the harbour on the basis of what is in Hong Kongʹs best long‐term economic, social and environmental interests.”24 Members of the group have organized, along with partners, a large array of conferences with experts, research reports, and public surveys to promote its conviction that: “A well‐designed harbour‐front and foreshore is good for business.”25 It is as representative of corporate interest—as the stereotype goes, Hong Kong’s all‐important interest—that the Harbour Business Forum succeeds in bringing a voice with weight. One member quoted in a Time magazine article explained that “This will give the government a jolt…We are not seen as the lunatics, we are not the green groups, we are not radical.”26 Their prominence in the business world allows activists on the Forum to bring the issues they care about into a greater sphere than might otherwise have been achieved: a 2005 Asia Wall Street Journal article featured the group prominently and put a negative slant on harbour reclamation.27 Although the grassroots nature of some of the harbour‐oriented NGOs lends appeal and authenticity to their cause, this level of corporate engagement lends assurance that interest in the harbour—and resources to continue educating the public and fighting unjust legislation—will not fade from the public scene in Hong Kong. Providing Alternatives: Designing Hong Kong’s Central Boulevard Concept Protest against a plan is less useful if viable alternatives are not given. In this spirit, there have been a small group of alternative proposals for the Tamar waterfront. In the winter‐spring of 2006, four concerned individuals made a coalition called “Designing Hong Kong” and, bypassing the Save Our Shorelines, Rezoning Request: Central District Reclamation Outline Zoning Plan No. S/H24/6, November 2004, 27. 23 Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, available online at http://www.hklii.hk/hk/legis/en/ord/531/s3.html, July 2006. 24 Harbour Business Forum, “About Us,” online at http://www.harbourbusinessforum.com/eng/aboutus.asp, July 2006. 25 Ibid. 26 Chaim Estulin, “How to Lose a Harbour,” Time Magazine (May 2, 2005), 36. 27 “Turning Point for Hong Kong Harbour,” Asia Wall Street Journal (July 2, 2005).s 22
words on which many of the previously mentioned activists had based their protest, went straight to a graphic depiction of their vision for the harbour in Central. These four people are all prominent leaders in the fight against unnecessary reclamation and for civic participation in the harbour planning process; they are Christine Loh of Civic Exchange, Paul Zimmerman of Designing Hong Kong Harbour District, Markus Shaw of WWF Hong Kong, and Peter Wong of the firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. Their plan, dubbed the “Central Boulevard Concept,” takes the Government model’s same gross floor area and reclamation space, but redistributes the elements in order to create a more pedestrian‐friendly civic area. Instead of featuring a highly dense “groundscraper” and lots of empty public space next to the water, as the Government model does, the Central Boulevard Concept spreads out the proposed population and advocates a more urban fabric next to the water, with lower, mixed‐use buildings and a progression of smaller public squares. This plan is aligned with generally accepted theories of public space and crime prevention, being geared towards encouraging use by the public at all hours of the day and providing multiple attractions in the area to result in “eyes on the street.”28 Although the plan is not connected by funding or staffing to the organizations of each of these members, it benefits from the breadth of perspective and history of activism on this issue that they offer. Like the Designing Hong Kong Harbour District report of two years before, the name recognition of the plan backers surely made a difference in its reception by the public and the Administration. Yet from a public relations standpoint, it is obvious that this plan also represents a final effort to gain the public’s ear and influence the planning board. The model was released very close to the final budgeting vote of June 2006. The language used—“The People’s Model vs. The Government’s Model”—is purposefully provocative. A series of powerful “Reality Check” posters compare the architectural renderings of green underpasses and pristine highway lanes with actual photographs of clogged streets and concrete dividers in current‐day Central. The model itself, although it bothers to meet the specifications of the Government, is an allegorical as well as a literal recommendation; it was made to inspire debate among the public. As its materials state, “Central Boulevard plan provides a thinking opportunity to look at the kind of structures that Tamar may accommodate.”29 The citizen charettes and surveys that have proliferated since Tamar became a prominent issue show that Hongkongers do have specific, graphic ideas for their harbour. In the future, the instincts of the public will be documented earlier, and hopefully be given more weight in the decision‐making process. Thanks to Tamar, it can be hoped that concrete, as well as abstract, suggestions for urban planning in Hong Kong will continue to be strongly voiced by members of the public and their leaders. Lessons Learned Each of these three approaches offers certain lessons for those interested in activism with regards to urban planning decisions in Hong Kong. As described in the first section of this report, the Town Planning Ordinance does offer formal avenues for the public to view, comment on, and protest proposed plans. However, these avenues are useless without some sort of public awareness and mobilization from civic organizations. Civic leaders I spoke with about Tamar observed that the average person in 1998 would not have known almost anything about reclamation, outline zoning This phrase was coined by Jane Jacobs in her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Designing Hong Kong, “Central Boulevard: Creating a Lively, Vibrant Waterfront, Befitting a World City,” available online at http://designinghongkong.com/PDF/CentralBoulevard_060531.pdf, July 2006. 28 29
plans, or even the environmental issues that have been pushed to the forefront of current discussions on the harbourfront issues. But a change in consciousness has taken shape thanks to the prominence of the Tamar debate and the fervor with which different organizations have pursued their demands for change. Without a doubt, the dramatic changes in political backdrop over the course of the Tamar project planning are crucial to understanding civic activism around the issue. The democracy march of July 1, 2003, was a very important symbol of the awakening of Hong Kong residents to the fact that they were politically active, and members of a civic society. Since then, a proliferation of causes and NGOs has enjoyed increasing public awareness and participation. Within the issue of harbour reclamation, for example, there are over half a dozen environmental organizations that have played some part in activism, whether it is participating in government meetings, conducting street‐level campaigns, or writing reports or articles about their cause. There are many discussed in this report alone: Society for Protection of the Harbour, Clear the Air, Friends of the Harbour, Save Our Shorelines. International players like World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace have also been involved. Charettes by Citizen Envisioning @ Harbour and surveys such as a recent example by the Hong Kong University30 have demonstrated that citizens of Hong Kong have quite clear ideas about their environments and different visions for the harbour. As activists gained the ear of the public, they also empowered the public to have individual opinions about the information they were hearing from the government as well as their organizations through media and other outlets. The role of NGOs has been to facilitate these sorts of discussions, as well as to lend resources to produce the types of reports and materials profiled previously in this paper. In many cases, individuals have financed the research, graphic production, and media out of pocket—showing the passion and personal investment most residents feel when they speak about the harbour. One survey showed Hongkongers using extremely personal words like “Guardian” or “Companion” to describe the harbour. Three in ten responded that they were “likely” or “very likely” to become involved in harbour‐related activism in the future.31 In many cases, it was taken as a given that the fight against Central reclamation and the Tamar redevelopment would never be won; and in fact, as we have seen, officially, the moment for a fight was technically over. Yet it was precisely this fact that pushed civic participation in this urban planning issue into a new incarnation. The success of activism “outside” has not been complete. Activists were forced, by spring 2006, to work under the assumption that the Tamar government offices would in fact be built, although it was maintained that other uses might better serve the area as able to sustain movement outside regular office hours and provide more access to the general public. Only ten legislators voted against the allocation of 5.16 billion dollars to the project at the last vote in June 2006, although the government had failed to produce meaningful documents regarding their plans for the site. However, considerable successes have also taken place. For one, the Government finally felt obligated to put out a model of their designs for the site, whereas before June 2006 there had been few specifics about the official plans. This was thanks to the prodding of Citizen Envisioning @ Harbour, and their commitment to graphic media coverage. Among civic leaders as well as the general public, there is a much wider knowledge of urban planning issues that will serve well in the coming battles over waterfront development in other areas of Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Public Opinion Program, “Planning for West Kowloon and the Harbour Front Public Opinion Survey” (conducted November 2005), available online at http://hkupop.hku.hk/english/report/habour2006/finding.html, July 2006. 31 A.C. Nielsen for the Harbour Business Forum, presentation on Public Opinion Survey on Victoria Harbour (2006), available online at http://www.harbourbusinessforum.com/eng/downloads/hbf_pos2006_report_e.pdf, 40. 30
Next What next for urban planning protest in Hong Kong? This summer’s budget vote will not end the public’s eye on Tamar, and the design‐build process will give ample opportunities for protest and voicing as each step is taken. The “last big reclamation” of Central III will usher in a new era of planning in Central Hong Kong, where transport planning will be absolutely forced to comply with sustainability since there won’t be room to build new roads. Newer projects such as the Western Kowloon cultural district have already garnered wide attention from both harbour‐oriented environmental groups and urban planning interests: LIVE.Architecture from the Chinese University of Hong Kong has spent considerable energy facilitating citizen charettes in pursuit of community architecture in various local communities; a new organization called Hong Kong Alternatives seeks to influence the building of open park space in lieu of the proposed district; and the People’s Panel on West Kowloon has partnered with think tanks (including Civic Exchange) and other local organizations to examine critically the government’s plans for the area. It will be extremely interesting to see how these well‐organized groups interact with the Legco and the Town Planning Board as West Kowloon’s outcome is decided in the next couple of years. Future harbourfront development areas also include the North Shore and Kennedy Town, whose future is uncertain; what is for sure is that the spotty, industrial mix of uses currently seen in these areas will not long withstand the temptations of developers. But now that the public’s eyes and hearts are engaged with the harbour, it will prove impossible to make such harbourfront plans behind closed doors, as was customary. What was at stake in the case of Tamar, and in future harbour cases, is no less than the legitimacy of the town‐planning process, and the legitimacy of the government of Hong Kong. Because the Town Planning Board is appointed, to many, they represent vested interests and a similarly bureaucratic mentality as can be found in other areas of government. If the formal process of public participation is a charade, then there is nowhere else to stage the discussion but outside formal avenues. But if government officials constructed proper, fair town planning processes, and complied with the spirit of public participation inherent in the Board’s principles for Victoria Harbour and the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee, this would be unnecessary. When trust can be built between Hong Kong’s government and civic society, and someday it must, the lessons learned in Tamar will prove to have been a positive first step towards civic optimism and the growth of democratic urban planning. Thanks to Margaret Brooke, Stephen Brown, John Bowden, Winston Chu, Michele Weldon, Yan Yan Yip, and Paul Zimmerman for taking their valuable time to speak with me about this research. Thanks also to Christine Loh for supervising this project during my internship at Civic Exchange.