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Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Pier pressure builds in Hong Kong
By Stephanie Holmes
BBC News

Everyone in Hong Kong seems to agree on one thing about Queen's Pier, a 1950s-built platform at the centre of violent protests about its future: it is no architectural masterpiece.

Inside Queen's Pier, Hong Kong
Uninspiring but evocative: Hong Kong's Queen's Pier

But the white concrete structure, which sits diminutively on the edge of Victoria Harbour, amid the city's shining skyscrapers and endless high-rises, evokes powerful reactions.

Plans to pull it down to make way for a by-pass have been greeted with angry protests, all-night vigils and even hunger strikes.

A very vocal section of Hong Kong's normally conservative, pragmatic residents have been fired up at what they see as the latest attempt to bulldoze one of the city's rapidly diminishing number of colonial-era structures.

Past and future

On Friday, a Hong Kong court dismissed protesters' attempts to challenge the legality of a government decision not to declare Queen's Pier a historic monument - which would have saved it.

The judge's decision means that the pier will probably remain nothing more than a part of the territory's collective memory.

"This is another little piece of Hong Kong's history," says Stephen Davies, director of Hong Kong's Maritime Museum.

"Queen's Pier was always part of the eye-line, a familiar landing point. If you ask the average Hong Kong resident about the island's waterfront that's what they would say - it's Star Ferry, it's Queen's Pier," he told the BBC News website.

View from Queen's Pier, Hong Kong
The pier was traditionally where governors arrived in Hong Kong
The battle for Star Ferry Pier, an iconic landmark on the city's waterfront, was lost late last year, further fuelling the protesters' determination to save Queen's Pier.

The current structure, built in 1954, was created to serve a ceremonial and symbolic function, becoming the first point where the new governors of Hong Kong would arrive on land.

When Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, it was from Queen's Pier that the final governor, Chris Patten, departed.

For Ronald Lu, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, the pier is an intricate part of the territory's history.

"Architecturally, it is not a significant masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination," he says.

"But it has a legacy. If we forget about Queen's Pier then there is no relationship between Hong Kong and its history. It needs to be explained to future generations that Hong Kong is different to other cities in mainland China," he says.

Rocking the boat

The protests - organised by students, conservationists, environmentalists and civic action groups - won a last-minute reprieve for the pier, which was closed in late April.

For Steve Tsang, of St Anthony's College, Oxford, the campaign to save Queen's Pier is motivated by a mixture of sentimentality and practicality.

"It [the destruction of Queen's Pier] represents unrelenting development, environmental degradation and disregard of heritage sites. That is what people are reacting against," he says.

Protesters clash with police at Queen's Pier, Hong Kong
Protesters say the pier's fate is a symbol of unrelenting development
"While people feel pretty powerless to stop polluted air passing over Hong Kong, at least they can actively try to save the pier," he told the BBC News website, adding that it was also probably the site of many a first kiss.

Ten years after the handover, he said, people feel more confident about speaking out.

"It's not that unusual that people get sentimental. In fact, the real question is, in such a wealthy society, why people aren't more demanding?" he asks.

The destruction of the pier is part of a broader redevelopment project to improve the city's infrastructure, and some of the reclaimed land will help build what the government says are vital transport links across Hong Kong.

Invisible sea

Even the Institute of Architects - which supports the protesters' aims, if not their methods - understands the government's infrastructure dilemma.

"Hong Kong has good crossings from north to south of the island but not from east to west," acknowledges Mr Lu. "The government is trying to address traffic problems."

As Mr Tsang adds, "In development terms, Hong Kong has a history of caring about some of its sites and heritage, but there just hasn't been as much of a desire to preserve as one would expect."

For the past 150 years, Hong Kong has been a city in flux.

It was transformed from a trading port into a centre for light industry and, in its latest incarnation, a global hub for the services industry.

Change is part of Hong Kong's DNA. With those changes Hong Kong has reclaimed land from the sea, swallowing more of its own harbour and altering its waterfront each time.

"Since 1841, the waterfront has moved forward four times," says Stephen Davies. "Hong Kong island has been moving seawards since the 1850s and becoming progressively bigger.

"What actually made Hong Kong - its sea trade - has become invisible."

Do you have any memories of Queen's Pier? What does it mean to you?

Your comments:

As a child I remember standing on the pier watching the double-ended ferries arrive. For a few cents, a trip across the harbour was always a minor treat. Perhaps Hong Kong is finally discovering the joys of nostalgia after decades of breakneck development!

Jason, Bath, England

The real battle is already lost. The Star Ferry Pier had much more significance as a heritage site than ever Queen's could have, so with this battle lost Queen's has no chance. And the fact it was the last/first place where the island's governors landed is an even more strong reminder to the Chinese government that they would much rather do without.

Ian A Bedford, Hsinchu, Taiwan

While the government publicity always emphasises the benefits of the planned Central Bypass, the plan for the reclaimed land also includes new shopping malls which we really don't need and which will detract from our marine heritage.

Hong Kong has always been driven by money, but there is a growing recognition here that other values should have a stronger place in decision making.

Rod Parkes, Taipo, Hong Kong

Frankly, I don't understand the hubbub. This pier does not look colonial; it is plain and utilitarian. I'm much more concerned about Hong Kong harbour itself, being squeezed into nothing more than a river due to new construction.

Bill Yarbrough, Cerritos, California

While I am sad to see it go, I see it necessary to improve the infrastructure linking the east and the west of the island. There are still many other landmarks that will remind us of our heritage, and how we Hong Kong people became who we are today.

Ken Lo, Hong Kong

Hong Kong will become just another generic Asian city if it continues to demolish historical buildings to make way for new roads and skyscrapers.

Donald Tsang has no respect for Hong Kong's history and is too willing to pander to the wishes of the mainland government rather than standing up for the people of Hong Kong.

Mr Chan, London, UK

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