A plan to reclaim the typhoon shelter at Kai Tak for housing could be scuppered by transport lawmaker Frankie Yick, who’s added a “poison pill” amendment to a LegCo motion ahead of debate at next Wednesday’s council meeting.
The Kai Tak reclamation plan, put forward by tourism lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, aims to run roughshod over the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance (PHO) and would reclaim the Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter “as a means of increasing short-term land supply”.
But in an exclusive interview with Transit Jam, Transport Panel Chairman Yick, who’s also managing director of Star Ferry, says he objects to the idea, and aims to sink it with an amendment demanding the typhoon shelter is replaced elsewhere if the Kai Tak site is reclaimed.
“If the government can provide another typhoon shelter in the inner harbour, I have no objection. But we cannot find any space we can convert into a typhoon shelter. It is almost impossible, so in a way I am saying no.”
Yick says the marine trade is already suffering a shortage of typhoon facilities. “These typhoon shelters are occupied by those pleasure yachts, so many of them, so when a typhoon comes, people in my trade want to go in but they are scared because they don’t want to moor by the side of those luxury yachts, they could be in big trouble in case of damage.”
And while there are potential sites away from the inner harbour, in Lantau, Yick says he wouldn’t accept that either. “When the typhoon comes it’s a long way to go, it’s impossible,” he says.
But at the same time, Yick says the PHO could use some flexibility. “I absolutely agree, for the inner harbour area there shouldn’t be any major scale or large scale of reclamation, but some minor facility, we have to do it.”
Yick has proposed his own Star Ferry as a solution to the long queues of arriving cruise passengers queuing for taxis, but had the idea knocked back on PHO concerns.
“We are talking about putting a pontoon near the tip of the Kai Tak runway, so we can provide ferry services for cruise passengers. We can send them over to TST on the Star Ferry, it’s a 10-minute ride, but we need a pontoon. And the government said it’s not allowed, under the PHO. This is nonsense to me,” he says.
Yick says the government’s proposed water taxi will be no use. “You cannot rely on the water taxi, it will use the old Fire Services Pier, it’s so far away. And the service frequency is very low, it will be expensive,” he says.
Star Ferry, on the other hand, he says, could carry 500 passengers with luggage per trip, if a pontoon is installed.
Kai Tak cruise terminal boss Jeff Bent recently called on the government to improve water access for the terminal. “A set of landing steps isn’t a big investment compared to other transport subsidies,” he told RTHK’s radio show Wham Bam Tram, in an interview to air on 10 April.
Water-sports vs. columbarium
Yick also points to opportunities to develop part of the typhoon shelter as a water-sports centre, like Singapore’s East Coast Park. “They have water-skiing facilities, mechanical ones, you don’t need a speed boat, it’s a good thing. Everybody can go and try, I think this sort of thing is good for Hong Kong, it’s right in the middle of the city!”
Many others, including district councillor Paul Zimmerman, have recently put forward similar concepts for waterfront activities in the district.
Paul Tse originally proposed the typhoon shelter reclamation in 2019, but discussion was stalled after the 1 July ransacking of the LegCo complex by protestors, 10 days before the council meeting.
The item has only just now found its way back onto the agenda.
Tse’s last big idea for Kai Tak was to turn the cruise terminal into a literal graveyard, putting forward plans for a private consortium to build a “designer columbarium” to store funeral urns.
But Yick says the cruise terminal isn’t doing as badly as Tse makes out and was “doing quite well before the pandemic”. He says government should certainly seek to improve transport and hotel provision on the site.
“I hope the government will at least keep one piece of land for hotel development – it’s a perfect match for the terminal,” he says.