Yasmin Hingun updates us on the fight for Instagram Pier

The government’s hotly contested plan to build a community garden on Sai Wan’s beloved ‘Instagram Pier’ took a turn in early January, after the District Council significantly downscaled the proposed area. But residents remain opposed to the plan due to perceived lack of consultation and transparency.

Instagram Pier, formally the Western District Public Cargo Working Area, runs along and juts out of the Island’s north-western edge. Joggers, dog walkers and photographers frequent the pier and its adjacent berth area for its unfettered views of Victoria Harbour and Belcher Bay.

“[When] we visited the pier, we were taken aback by how gorgeous the sunset looked,” recalls photographer and resident Gabrielle Salonga. “It’s a great alternative to the typical Hong Kong skyline view a million tourists come to see.”

The government’s policy address in October would have portioned off 7500 square metres of the berth area to be run by an NGO, with a section of the space to be converted into a community garden.

“This would limit the access for the majority of the public,” notes District and Legislative Councillor Ted Hui. “Instagram Pier offers a huge space and this should be enjoyed by most of the community rather than just a handful.”

The plans caused widespread criticism, including a protest outside a District Council meeting in December, due to concerns over privatisation and the possibility of the space being fenced off. Public sentiment was not aided when part of the pier was closed off to host a month-long Taoist Festival in November without adequate consultation. “The festival also created trash issues,” says Hui. “This could be one bad example of how some NGOs could mismanage the area.”

In response to the public backlash, the District Council issued a new statement in January cutting down the NGO-owned space and garden to 2000 square metres.

“Although the remaining open space seems to be larger than the original proposal, it is unclear what restrictions will be placed to change the ways [the public] use the site.” says Cherry Wong, convenor of the Protect Kennedy Town Alliance.

In a joint reply, the Development Bureau [DEVB] and the LCSD explain that their second proposal places the remaining 5500 square metres from the original plan under governmental maintenance. Extra facilities such as railings, lighting and seating are to be added to ensure a safer harbourfront environment.

Critics of the plan are not entirely opposed to some minor improvements to the pier but do not see the rationale for involving a third party for the garden. “We believe the government can manage the site and should not shirk their responsibility to do so,” states Wong.

Furthermore, many question the nature of a harbourfront garden. “Surely they can find a better area,” points out Salonga. “After all, who thinks about planting vegetables on a pier?”

The DEVB and LCSD contend that they are seeking to meet the area’s needs, referring to a nearby community garden at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park. “Since its establishment, the garden has always been oversubscribed. Hence, we believe that [Sai Wan Pier] could respond to demand for similar activities, while bringing in a new form of leisure use to the harbourfront.”

“Strong winds, salinity, and sea waves make it difficult for a community garden to be located at the harbourfront,” counters Wong. She states that local concern groups have identified possible sites further inland that can provide 3,000 square metres, for example on Ui On Lane, next to Ladder Street and in Sai Wan Estate.

“It is good that the government listened to the concern groups by scaling down the area for the proposed community garden,” adds Hui. “Although the fundamental question still remains: why should there be a community garden on Instagram Pier?”