Click the icon to view the amount of reclamation of Victoria Harbour over the years
Victoria Harbour has been a vital component to the economic and social success of Hong Kong since the early 1840s. The presence of a safe, all-weather, deepwater harbour was one of the principal advantages for the establishment of a permanent European trading settlement at Hong Kong.
From the earliest years of British settlement in Hong Kong, land reclamation was regarded as one of the most cost-effective means to meet the steadily-rising demand for development property. At the same time - in the absence of a broader based fiscal policy - the sale of reclaimed land generating much-needed recurrent Government revenue through land sales.
Land reclamation schemes began in the early 1840s and have continued until the present day. The current amount of reclaimed land amounts to around 7000 hectares. Since the late 1990s the Hong Kong Government has been reluctant to allow further land reclamation, mainly due to mounting public concern about the further destruction of one of Hong Kong's most valuable resources - Victoria Harbour.
From the early 1840s until the late 1960s, wharfs, passenger piers, warehouses and godowns, ship-building and repairing facilities, including major naval and commercial dockyards, were located around the foreshore of Victoria Harbour. From the early 1970s onwards, these facilities were either relocated to more outlying sections of the harbour, such as the new container port at Kwai Chung, and the resultant vacant spaces have been turned into commercial and residential facilities.
Please refer to the Land Reclamation Timeline for information regarding past reclamation projects. Most present-day harbourfront areas in both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are dominated by transportation and public utility facilities such as government buildings, car parks, piers and utilities. A combination of barrier fencing and expressways limit access to the harbourfront, which further detracts from Victoria harbour's general aesthetic and greatly limits the potential for its utilization and enjoyment by the general public.
Harbour Issues Today
For many years, during the rapid economic development of the city, the main priority in Hong Kong was to reclaim land from the harbour for property and infrastructure development and to use the waterfront for this and port related or other functional facilities. However, in January 2004, Hong Kong Government found it necessary to halt future reclamation of the Harbour when the Court of Final Appeal handed down a judgment against reclamation as specified in the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance. This can only be reversed by establishing an 'overriding public need' for reclamation. The government has publicly pledged that it will undertake no future reclamation, apart from projects already under way in the current Central Reclamation Phase III, the Wan Chai Development Phase II, and the Southeast Kowloon Development.
With substantial reclamation no longer an option, the focus is shifting to the limited land available on the foreshore. Such land is currently dominated by transport infrastructure, lacks vibrancy and provides limited pedestrian, ground-level access to the Harbour itself. This is at odds with Harbourfront trends elsewhere in the world, which are focused increasingly on urban regeneration and providing access to waterfront areas as public spaces. From Melbourne to London, waterfronts are being developed as commercial, cultural and recreational areas. These strategies have been implemented in various ways, including submerging roads into tunnels (as in Boston and Sydney), re-planning and rebuilding infrastructure in less intrusive ways (San Francisco), and providing pedestrian access at ground level through a series of roads radiating from the town to the Harbour-front (Barcelona).
Hong Kong's waterfront, by contrast, is uninspiring and sterile, with few restaurants or cafes along Hong Kong's Harbour-front, and very few places to relax and enjoy the stunning view. Long stretches of the foreshore remain inaccessible or closed to the public, or are lined with ventilation shafts, pumping stations, derelict cargo-handling jetties, or empty stretches of land designated as for temporary use.
With an estimated 8.3 million residents and 70 million tourists by 2030, the Harbour should be a showcase for Hong Kong with a high degree of social, economic, environmental vibrancy. The quality of the environment surrounding the Harbour is fundamental to that realisation of such an objective. An attractive Harbour will add to the well being and quality of life to the city and its citizens, increase Hong Kong's attractiveness to tourists, and act as a magnet for foreign business and the world class human resources necessary for Hong Kong's sustained economic growth.