The Government is getting ready to sell a large piece of land in Central stretching from Jardine House and Central Piers 7 and 8: the Star Ferry and Maritime Museum. Normally, land leases are sold by tender and the highest bidder wins. For this site, we urge government to choose the winner based on the best design.
There are many reasons why this development should be considered a special project. First, it is a huge piece of land right on the Central waterfront. Whatever will be built here, will determine the outlook of central and the portrayal of HK’s famous skyline on every tourist brochure. Secondly, the building will need to provide excellent connections for pedestrians between the ‘sea level’ waterfront and the extensive elevated pedestrian network which hovers over the roads, tunnels, bus termini, ferry stations, MTR and Airport Express stations in Central. Thirdly, it should provide lots of open space and sitting out areas for the public to enjoy the views of the harbour and waterfront from the roofs, the balconies, the decks and the ground level. Fourth, the development needs to provide excellent connections with minimum hassle and obstacles below ground, at street level and at elevated level for travelers who transfer (with luggage) between the different modes of transport such as the bus, minibus, taxis, private cars, trains, and ferries. Fifth, this building should incorporate the existing Post Office – there is no reason to demolish an existing piece of architecture. And sixth, the parking and drop off facilities should be designed so that people leave their car here north of the Connaught/Gloucester Road Corridor and walk the rest of Central south of the corridor. This will enable the implementation of electronic road pricing and help improve the pedestrian environment in the old parts of Central.
The government is currently drafting a ‘planning brief’ for this 4.76ha ‘comprehensive development site.’ Once approved by the Town Planning Board, government will put the site including the post office and the star ferry car park up for sale. Developers will make a bid based on the permitted maximum gross floor area of 150,000m2 for commercial towers and retail podium. When calculating their bids, developers will take into account their obligation to provide 325 public car parking spaces (on top of the permitted private parking spaces); transport facilities such as taxi stands, coach bays and public loading/unloading bays; the reprovisioning of the General Post Office and two public toilets; and the reconstruction of Star Ferry Clock Tower (yes – the bells have been saved and are awaiting return to their former location.) The developer will also have to provide public open space at the ground level and at the deck levels.
Importantly, the future development on this site will not be high – maximum 50mPD – but as the volume of gross floor area is huge with a large number of facilities, it was nicknamed ‘the groundscraper’ during the debate over the urban design of the central waterfront. At the time people were concerned over air ventilation and how the Government planned the new reclamation for land sales rather than public enjoyment.
Now that the sale of the site is coming close, we need to make sure it is recognized as a very special opportunity for Hong Kong, and only the best design should be allowed to win.Paul Zimmerman is District Councillor representing Pokfulam and CEO of Designing Hong Kong, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting livability and sustainable urban planning. He was awarded Honorary Membership of the American Institute of Architects for his role in improving the waterfront around Victoria Harbour. Paul has a Masters in Social Science (Economics) from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and is completing his Masters of Arts (Transport Policy and Planning) at The University of Hong Kong.