One of the better jokes in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is when Arthur Dent is informed that the plans for the (imminent) destruction of Earth were on display for nine months and no-one objected. It seems that the something similar happened with the government's plan to demolish the Star Ferry Pier. After they started knocking it down, the protests started, so the government pointed out that this had been planned for a long time and they had even been through one of their famous "consultation" exercises. No-one had objected, and now it was too late.
Of course these plans weren't actually on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard', but the effect seems to have been much the same.
Which is strange really, because you'd think that the opening of a new ferry pier (and all the talk about reclamation) would have been a pretty big clue that the old ferry pier would soon be gone. However, when the demolition work started the protestors arrived, and (as the SCMP explained last week) the government should have expected this:
For five years it has been in possession of a study of the historic value of the Star Ferry and adjacent Queen's piers, as part of an environmental impact assessment of the reclamation. The report describes the Star Ferry pier as a building of great significance in the city's transport history, and predicts accurately that its destruction would "likely raise public objection and dismay".
The few members of the public who had read the report could be excused for naively believing the piers would be preserved. But reading the report was easier said than done, until conservationists resurrected a copy this week in a last-ditch attempt at preservation.
Unlike other reports on the reclamation, it was not posted on the government website and the hard copy was available for public inspection only within working hours at a government office. Officials deny hiding the report for years and blame technical problems. Nonetheless, it is a cautionary reminder that it is not uncommon for governments to tell people what they want them to hear.
Communication is about listening to what people say, and making sure everyone understands what you say. If people haven't understood, then your "consultation" has been a failure, and you will appear arrogant and out-of-touch if you try to argue otherwise.
I am not convinced that people in Hong Kong really care about the Star Ferry pier itself - it's not exactly a distinguished piece of architecture. It's more of a protest against the way that the government and big business simply don't seem to care what ordinary people think. There was nothing wrong with the Star Ferry where it was, but it got in the way of another grand plan, so it had to go. That's why people are not happy.
Incidentally, I see that there is now a plan to extend the tram system to the new Star Ferry pier. Well, I suppose we need something to replace the rickshaws. All part of the integrated transport policy, no doubt.