Grannie Green Revivial

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Chp 114, Star Ferry – Forty years champion for the environment

Star Ferry

CA stood up against the proposal to demolish Star Ferry. Despite its short history (since 1958), the Ferry was an icon of collective memory; the reputed “Heartbreak of Central” – the chimes of Star Ferry Clock Tower – has long been a part of life of Central. It should not be relocated despite the reclamation plans for Central. That was in September 1999. The next month, the National Geographic Traveler named Star ferry as one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime”.

In the ongoing debate about Central Reclamation, CA continued to call for preservation of heritage along the harbourfront, including Star Ferry, Queen’s Pier, Edinburgh Place and City Hall. Specifically on Star Ferry and Queen’s Pier, CA registered its opposition to LegCo on 20 November 2003 against their planned demolition, stressing that “the Star Ferry Pier and the Queen’s Pier accumulate many memories and are heritages of Hong Kong”.

Came 2006, the reclamation works were well-advanced. The year happened to be the 40th anniversary of the historic “Kowloon Disturbances” sparked off by the five-cent fare hike of the Star Ferry. A new Star Ferry had been constructed on newly reclaimed land, waiting to take over the Star Ferry that Hong Kong people were familiar with. The Star Ferry and the adjacent Queen’s Pier were to go as they were standing where a newly planned P2 road was to be constructed, with tunnels to be provided underneath for drainage and MTR railway extension.

As a protest to the destruction of heritage, CA members tied blue ribbons on 17 June 2006 and did a Mexican Wave rally to pay tribute to the Star Ferry and Queen’s Pier. In September, CA proposed to LegCo that both piers could be preserved if the planned P2 road were to be moved slightly to the north. The LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works passed a motion to urge the Administration to postpone the demolition.

Despite that, the Star Ferry’s operation was to cease at 11:30pm on 11 November. Among thousands of citizens bidding farewell to Star Ferry and its Clock Tower, CA organized a red ribbon campaign to express indignation as well as the Association’s determination to preserve the two piers.

The Ferry Concourse, the Clock Tower and the Pier were immediately fenced off in preparation for demolition. For several weeks, CA, the SEE Network and the Hong Kong Institute of Architects were the major voice in pleading for a “stay of execution” for Star Ferry. CA’s role was to coordinate a submission to the Chief Executive Mr Donald Tsang on 28 November, a rally on 3 December, and a joint public statement to be submitted to the Executive Council on 5 December.

As the bulldozers moved in, the campaign attracted a new band of allies made up of young people from universities and the cultural sector. Although branded “activists” by the media, the young advocates for Hong Kong heritage were remarkably rational and knowledge-based. On 13 December, in a letter to CA from the Housing Planning and Lands Bureau, the government categorically dismissed any further opportunity of salvaging Star Ferry. This drew another protest statement from CA on 14 December. But all these proved not enough to sway the government, whether protest rallies or more frantic letter writing. Regrettably, the Clock Tower was dismantled on 16 December 2006.

The removal of the Clock Tower had taken place carefully in broad daylight, with whole pieces held intact. But they were immediately transported to a landfill and crushed to pieces. The young supporters of Star Ferry were disbursed by force and some arrested. Thankfully, the historic clock itself was salvaged earlier thanks to intensive lobbying by the SEE Network. Other parts of the pier and the concourse were gradually bulldozed.

It should be explained that CA had not disputed the due planning process for the reprovisioning of the Star Ferry, nor the validity of the Central Outline Zoning Plan or the need for the infrastructure of which Star Ferry stood in the way. However, CA was adamant that the requirement for the old pier to be demolish was a fallacy which must be refuted; the OZP is not “a license to demolish.”

This is because while the OZP is a planning matter (for which due process has been completed), the preservation or demolition of the old pier would be a works matter, for which there were conflicting views being debated between government and other professionals. Relocating the Star Ferry per se did not imply that the old pier structure must necessarily be demolished (even if it would never serve as a pier again). As to the OZP, while it had indeed gone through the planning process, the plan itself did not give any authority for demolition of Star Ferry, just as it did not give authority for any mature trees within it to be chopped down.

The issue should therefore be a matter of professional and technical judgement in the course of the works. There CA and other professionals had put forward alternatives to resolve the apparent conflicts. But the government’s high-handed manner in dismantling the Clock Tower and arresting the “activists” had precluded any further rational debate. It also rendered further statements meaningless, other than a statement on 10 January 2007 condemning the government for charging peaceful demonstrators, and another submission to LegCo Panel on Planning Lands and Works on 23 January indicating CA’s preference for the salvaged Clock to be re-instated as close to the original locality as possible. Where it would actually end up would depend on the outcome of the Central Reclamation Urban Design study which was ongoing in 2008.

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August 2, 2015 - Posted by | Dr WK Chan book

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