A concern group has asked the town planning watchdog to rezone a prime strip of Hong Kong's Central harbourfront that was recently handed over to the People's Liberation Army as open space "to reduce risks of conflict".
The group argued that change of the land use of the 150-metre strip would not affect the army's operations of the dock, but could instead benefit the military and enable a continuous promenade for the public.
"If a military vessel comes to the town and requires berthing at the military dock, the area can be fully secured under the Public Order Ordinance for a specific period," Albert Lai Kwong-tak, a member of the Central Harbourfront Concern Group, said on Friday.
He was referring to Section 36 of the ordinance, which says the chief executive can declare any area closed if she finds it necessary for protection of national security or public safety.
If the site remained a military-use zone and was opened to the public only when it was not in use by the PLA, it would still be under the army's jurisdiction, which was different from Hong Kong's laws, Lai said, adding that conflicts might arise if people entered the area and performed acts perceived unacceptable by the PLA.
The Legislative Council last month passed a law to transfer the strip to the PLA, with the pro-establishment camp blocking the opposition's attempts to prevent it.
In its submission to the Town Planning Board, the group proposed to rezone a major part of the pier to open space, while four existing structures and landing steps would remain exclusively for military use.
The rezoning plea is aimed at conforming with the planning intention of the harbourfront promenade as a place for public enjoyment.
"Permanently closed military facilities needed for the purposes of the defence of Hong Kong have already been provided elsewhere and do not need to be permanently at this sensitive site," the submission read.
The place should be managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department instead, it suggested.
The dock occupies 0.3 hectares, which accounts for 3 per cent of the total area of the Central waterfront promenade.
The handover of the waterfront strip to the army was the result of a 1994 agreement, which said the pier was among five sites to be reprovisioned for the garrison because the military dock used by the colonial army at the harbourfront was removed following the Central and Wan Chai reclamation.
According to the government, the PLA would in future "consider opening (the dock area except the buildings) to the public on condition that its defence functions would not be compromised".
Vincent Ng Wing-shun, chair of the Harbourfront Commission, said even if the dock was closed during use by the army, people could still walk through the harbourfront by passing through the south of the dock and could still enjoy its view.
"It will be a pragmatic and appropriate arrangement to open the area to the public when not used by the PLA," Ng said.
The Development Bureau said the rezoning application would be handled in accordance with relevant statutory procedures under the Town Planning Ordinance.
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