Activists and local councillors protested on Tuesday against a government proposal to develop underground spaces below three urban parks in the city.

“This project will entail extensive, open-cut excavation of our parks, closing large sections for years – all for more commercial development at the expense of public open space,” the citizen-led Central and Western Concern Group wrote in an open petition letter to the government.

Central and Western Concern Group
Photo: Central and Western Concern Group, via Facebook.

The Civil Engineering and Development Department is collecting public opinions on proposed underground development in three areas: Tsim Sha Tsui West; Causeway Bay and Happy Valley; and Admiralty and Wan Chai.

Three major parks in the vicinity – Kowloon Park, Victoria Park, and Southorn Playground – are included in the plan.

The department said it is currently studying opportunities for underground spaces in these areas, including relocating existing above-ground facilities and creating new underground facilities for commercial and recreational use.

underground space parks
Planning concept: Tsim Sha Tsui West. Photo: CEDD.

It is also considering connecting buildings through underground passages in order to reduce the volume of above-ground pedestrian flow and traffic congestion.

In promoting the pilot study on its website, the department cited local examples such as the underground car park at Harcourt Garden and the pedestrian subway system connecting Tsim Sha Tsui and East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR stations. It also mentioned examples such as the Underground City in Montréal, Canada, and underground shopping streets in Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.

Montréal Underground City
Montréal Underground City. File Photo: Yngwiemanux, via Flickr.

Adverse impact

But critics are worried that development in already densely-developed urban areas would only add to congestion and population concentration, which they said goes against the government’s overall objectives of spreading out the population to the New Territories.

On Tuesday, ex-lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok and local councillors Clarisse Yeung Suet-yin and Roy Tam Hoi-pong joined activists in opposing the proposal. They urged members of the public to email their objections to the department during the consultation period.

The concern group argued that the proposed development projects “opportunistically target existing, government-owned public space.”

“[They] do not actually solve any of the problems mentioned in the study – they provide links where links are already available, and community facilities where such facilities are already available,” it said.

“There are many empty shops in the target areas. We do not need more commercial development; we need open public space for recreational activity.”

underground space parks
Planning concept: Admiralty/Wan Chai. Photo: CEDD.

It added that the parks would be closed for years, thereby barring “thousands of citizens” of all ages and backgrounds from using the open spaces.

The department admitted that disruption to the usage of above-ground facilities and long road closure during the construction period “cannot be avoided.” It also acknowledged that the construction projects may aggravate traffic congestion in the areas.

But it promised to avoid the impacts on trees and events held within the parks “as far as possible.”

The department held public exhibitions across the city between last November and January. It is collecting views from the general public online.

Afterwards, it will conduct technical assessments and prepare preliminary master plans.

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Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.