Wednesday, November 26, 2014   




Pier battle throws light on landmarks

Jonathan Cheng

Monday, December 18, 2006

The clock tower may have come down, but preservationists continued to fire shots at the government for a heritage policy whose callousness, they say, was fully exposed by the weekend's destruction of the old Star Ferry pier in Central.

A day after a construction team dismantled the 49-year-old tower and loaded it on to a barge, Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat snapped at Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam- kuen, calling the administration "too numb to recognize the values of memories, history and culture."

"Can you not see the apparent consensus by the people to preserve our common memories, our history and our culture?" Lee said Sunday on Radio Television Hong Kong, addressing his question directly to Tsang.

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Alan Leong Kah-kit, who is challenging Tsang in March's chief executive election, also criticized the government for destroying the pier and for putting greater value on money than on responding to public sentiment.

The Star Ferry pier saga has been brewing for months, but only began making headlines after preservationists took their protests in a more aggressive direction last week.

For days, television screens were dominated by images of protesters storming the ferry pier site, waving banners from the top of a construction vehicle and being hauled off by police.

Sunday provided plenty of evidence that anger has begun spilling over into other causes, with legislators and district council members seizing the public mood and drawing attention to other landmarks they say are worthy of protecting.

Kam Nai-wai, a district council member in Central and Western District, said the Star Ferry episode had taught Hong Kong "important lessons" about fighting the demolition of the city's historic landmarks.

Kam plans to take the fight to one section of Victoria Prison, Hong Kong's first jail. While most of the prison, located in the pricey Mid-Levels area, dates back 160 years and has been designated for preservation, one section of the prison - the F building, built in 1931 - is slated for destruction by property developers, since it was deemed to lack historical value.

Kam said his district council had already passed a motion to preserve the building, but claims the government has ignored those petitions.

And then there is a looming fight over an old police station and jade market in Yau Ma Tei that is being threatened by the planned Central Kowloon Route, which will come up for debate tomorrow at the Legislative Council's public works subcommittee of the Finance Committee.

Some legislators have warned government officials not to repeat the Star Ferry mistake by proceeding without providing full transparency and a chance for citizens to have a say in the fate of those buildings.

There is also the possibility of a fight over the Star Ferry's neighboring Queen's Pier, which received Queen Elizabeth II during her visits to Hong Kong. That site is set to be demolished to make way for the same highway that the Star Ferry pier has been cleared for.

Though a number of other city sites were discussed Sunday, the focus for the time being was still centered on the Star Ferry pier battle.

Lee, the Democratic Party lawmaker, interpreted the whole fiasco as a product of an arrogant administration that ignored public opinion.

"It is time the government came down off its high horse and be with the people," Lee said. "We, the people of Hong Kong, do not want the demolition of our clock tower in the Central Star Ferry pier. The clock tower is our history, our culture, and our memories."

Deputy Director of Planning Ophelia Wong Yuen-sheung went on RTHK's City Forum to defend the destruction of the old clock tower, saying the government had given the decision a sufficient consultation period.

Wong also pledged to preserve the character of the tower in the new harborfront park that planners are developing.

Speaking on the same program, Patrick Lau Sau-shing, who represents architects, surveyors and planners in Legco, admitted there was room for improvement in the administration's handling of the Star Ferry fiasco.

He called on the government to preserve traditional culture and help citizens better understand the city planning process in Hong Kong.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of the Council for Sustainable Development, said the decision to demolish the pier was purely "political" - that it had nothing to do with technical or planning difficulties.

Hunger strikers at the Star Ferry site, meanwhile, said they were incensed by the possibility that the tower's remains may be used for reclaiming more of the harbor, as some reports claim.

Wong Ho-yin, one of the protesters, demanded an apology from the government, accusing officials of ignoring public sentiment and rejecting requests to redevelop the ferry pier in a "democratic" manner.

Wong and his fellow protesters vowed to finish their hunger strike at 2am today - a 49-hour strike to match the clock tower's 49-year history.

They marched Sunday evening from the ferry site to SAR government headquarters in Central, and demanded to see the chief executive. Police were on hand to keep an eye on the estimated 200 marchers.


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