Monday, 4 November 2013

Fighting for the Harbour

Will the Town Planning Board give land near the Central piers to the PLA?
Near the Central ferry piers is a giant patch of green grass. However, it's cordoned off with a fence because it marks the area that the Hong Kong government intends to give to the People's Liberation Army even though there is no clear stipulation of giving 0.3 hectares of land, only to construct a 150-metre long berth by the harbour, probably for Chinese officials who plan to arrive to Hong Kong by boat.

The public only heard about this proposal that was made quietly in February and ever since the public has been up in arms about the possibility of the PLA occupying taxpayers' land and prime waterfront space that could be enjoyed by everyone.

This forced the Town Planning Board to hold a hearing about the issue and a record 19,000 written submissions were made since February. Over 2,000 plan to speak at the TPB meeting -- but they are only limited to speaking 10 minutes each in order to get through all the speakers in the next two months.

Which is why activists are upset they only have 10 minutes to speak. I have met Winston Chu Ka-sun, former chairman of the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, and it takes him at least an hour just to make his case. Chu, who is also a lawyer, has told the media he has a stack of paper work two metres high and it would be impossible for him to speak for just 10 minutes.

Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok spoke today, the start of the hearings, but his microphone was shut off after 10 minutes.

"These restrictions are utterly irresponsible and unreasonable... They are an insult to the public's intelligence and a rape of public opinion," he said. He described cutting off his speech as "procedural violence" and added he might take legal action.

Chu, who is also a former TPB member says there are no time limits in hearings. "Entitlement to a fair hearing is a constitutional right and as a quasi-judicial body [the board] must act reasonably and provide a fair hearing, he said.

He is doing all he can to play by the rules -- and will legally challenge these governmental bodies if he has to. Chu is a righteous man who promised his mother he would do everything he could to save the harbour from being overtaken by others.

While Chu says his family thinks he's crazy to put so much time and energy into saving Victoria Harbour, it is his passion, and he is doing it for the public good. If he did not lead the fight to save the harbour before, it might have been filled in by now.

With over 19,000 written submissions, it's quite obvious the public does not want the land to be given outright to the PLA. There's no telling what they would do with it or how they would secure the area.

Surely it would be in the best interests of the TPB's integrity to ensure everyone gets a fair say in such a contentious issue that affects 7 million of us enjoying Victoria Harbour?

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