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Speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the motion debate on "Developing town planning and urban designs featuring local characteristics for the 18 districts" moved by Hon Patrick Lau at the Legislative Council

 

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the motion debate on "Developing town planning and urban designs featuring local characteristics for the 18 districts" moved by Hon Patrick Lau at the Legislative Council today (November 24):

 

President, Honourable Members,

 

The motion moved by the Honourable Patrick Lau today basically urges the Government to review the planning policies, revise the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines (HKPSG) and set up an inter-departmental group to coordinate town planning which reflects the characteristics of every district.

 

First of all, I would like to thank the Honourable Patrick Lau for raising this issue of town planning for discussion in this council. This important topic is of great concern to all of us. I am glad to discuss with Honourable Members the vision and principles of town planning adopted by the Government. Town planning is aimed at serving the general public of Hong Kong. Our objective is to provide a living environment and space which is comfortable and safe, which meets the needs of social development, achieves sustainable development and benefits the next generation. Planning work has to keep abreast of the times and be applied flexibly. During the planning process, it is important for us to identify the goal and direction of development, and to protect and make good use of the precious resources of our society. While ensuring land resources are put to good use, we also have to achieve the goal of orderly and coherent development. Planning work is in effect not only a dynamic process and even more so, an art in itself.

 

As the land area, history, topography, economic development and characteristics vary among districts, and the population density, age, and the living pattern of the residents also differ so that the demand for public facilities varies, planning work is required not only to keep pace with the times but also to match with the needs of the local districts. Therefore, I strongly support the rationale behind the Honourable Patrick Lau's motion.

 

However, I do not agree with the Honourable Patrick Lau regarding his remark that the HKPSG was only revised infrequently so that most of the guidelines have become out of step with present-day circumstances and that planning policies did not pay regard to the local characteristics of individual districts. In view of this, I think there is a need for me to clarify the purpose, application as well as the updating of the HKPSG; and to explain how planning for the districts is carried out.

 

The Purpose and Application of the HKPSG

 

The purpose of the HKPSG is to provide general guidelines and guidance to ensure that, during the planning process, the Government will reserve adequate land and provide appropriate public facilities to facilitate social and economic development and to meet the needs of the public.

 

The application of the standards and guidelines is clearly set out under Section 5, Chapter 1 of the HKPSG. It underlines the point that the planning standards and guidelines should only serve as a reference. When implementing the planning for districts, government departments have to take into consideration the characteristics of the local population, the practical conditions and the characteristics of the districts, the development constraints and the availability of resources, etc. In the process of carrying out territorial, regional and district planning, we always bear in mind the need to respond to local demands, form partnerships with the civil society, actively promote participation of the general public and the local residents, and exercise flexibility in applying the planning standards and guidelines in order to effectively coordinate the planning work on all three levels.

 

Revision of the HKPSG

 

The HKPSG is not a rigid document at all. From time to time, Planning Department makes additions, deletions or revisions to the planning standards to keep pace with government policies and the changing needs of society.

 

The compilation of the HKPSG can be traced back to 1965. As the Honourable Lee Wing-tat pointed out in his amendment motion, the standards and guidelines have undergone a number of major revisions. Since its re-editing in 1990, the HKPSG has had 41 revisions, including as many as 15 revisions of a whole chapter. In the past five years, the HKPSG had a total of 16 revisions, which included amendments to the standards and guidelines of various facilities, and the addition of new guidelines such as the urban design guidelines and the guidelines on greening. Each major revision was incorporated after a detailed study, thorough research and extensive public consultation.

 

Planning with District Characteristics

 

I now come to the subject of district planning and how it has reflected the needs and characteristics of the respective districts. Planning Department has always given full consideration to the topography, development conditions and special functions of individual districts in the course of planning in order to display to the full and make the best use of the district characteristics, with a view to providing a sound basis for land utilization and urban design.

 

Taking the former Kai Tak Airport site as an example, the Planning Department has commenced a new round of planning review to take into account the latest situation and the public's aspiration for the development of the area. Public consultation in the form of public forums and community workshops are being carried out with a view to exchanging views with the public and understanding their needs and aspirations in order to ensure that the development proposal to be put forward will not only bear a unique district character but also meet public aspirations. At the same time, for districts which have a clear district identity such as Central, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui, the Planning Department would, through appropriate planning, enhance their status as Hong Kong's financial, commercial and tourist hubs. The recent launching of the public consultation exercise for Feasibility Study for Area Improvement for Tsim Sha Tsui is a notable example.

 

The Government has also set out the planning vision for different regions. The South East New Territories is identified as the 'Leisure Garden of Hong Kong' and the North West New Territories would be the gateway to the Pearl River Delta. In fact, before sub-regional planning is conducted and the vision for different regions is determined, the Planning Department has always conducted extensive public consultations, and consultation with the relevant District Councils and local resident organisations is one of the necessary steps.

 

Urban Design Guidelines

 

In 2003, after extensive public consultation, the Planning Department completed a study on Urban Design Guidelines for Hong Kong. In the same year, the findings and recommendations of the study were incorporated into the new Chapter 11 of the HKPSG to lay out a set of urban design guidelines. The guidelines provide a framework and detailed principles of urban planning, as well as guidance for development plan formulation on the macro- and micro-levels. The guidelines are aimed at shaping a better built environment in Hong Kong, in particular strengthening and enhancing the local characters of different districts. A variety of topics are covered in the guidelines, including disposition of buildings, development height profile, uses of the waterfront, public realm, streetscape, historical heritage and so on. The Planning Department has begun to implement these guidelines in phases. For instance, interim building height controls were imposed on business areas in Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong last March to preserve public views to ridgelines of the Kowloon Peninsula. In the meantime, the Planning Department plans to incorporate building height controls into the relevant statutory outline zoning plans.

 

Regarding the Honourable Alan Leong's concern on land uses in Hong Kong being dominated by private developers, I would like to point out that the government has all along acted as a 'facilitator', setting out a market framework which is fair, transparent, simple and appropriate to enable the private sector to develop and express their creativity, further enhancing the district character and vibrancy. The examples of Lan Kwai Fong and the Soho, which are well-known locally and abroad, neatly illustrates how such a flexible framework would enable the market to develop and enhance its district character.

 

At the same time, the government attaches equal importance to its role as a 'regulator'. As the development and use of land cannot remain unregulated, it is necessary that all developments conform with the planning intentions and development restrictions set out in the corresponding statutory plans. The statutory plans are prepared by the Town Planning Board in accordance with statutory procedures set out in the Town Planning Ordinance, where a proper mechanism is available for the public to put forward views regarding individual statutory plans and development proposals. The Town Planning Board comprises a wide representation of members with different expertise, including relevant professionals and local leaders. Therefore, I am confident that Hong Kong's land uses are not dominated by the private developers.

 

Statutory and Administrative Planning Measures to Promote Local Characters

 

In addition to statutory powers, the Planning Department will also employ administrative planning measures to preserve and reinforce the unique character of individual districts and to enhance the functions and visual quality of public space. Let me recount some examples:

 

(1) We have managed to preserve the distinctive "garden estate" building character of Kowloon Tong by stipulating appropriate controls on the building height and development intensity within the "Residential (Group C)1" zone in the Kowloon Tong Outline Zoning Plan;

 

(2) We can also impose approval conditions on planning permissions granted by the Town Planning Board to major development projects so as to retain the characteristics of individual sites. A case in point is the Ngau Chi Wan comprehensive development project, where the applicant was required to submit and implement a preservation plan for the historical buildings of the St. Joseph's Home for the Aged;

 

(3) We can also conduct district improvement studies such as the Pedestrian Plan for Causeway Bay and the Feasibility Study for Area Improvement for Tsim Sha Tsui;

 

(4) We can also specify building setback requirements in the Outline Development Plans for specific Planning Areas to make more space available for landscaping, planting and streetscape beautification.

 

Cooperation with Other Government Departments

 

Moreover, to improve the district environment, various government departments have set up working committees such as the Streetscape Enhancement Task Force of the Highways Department and the Greening Master Plan Committee of the Civil Engineering and Development Department. One of the important principles adopted by these committees is to express the local character in streetscape design and thematic planting. Another important ingredient is of course to allow local citizens to participate by giving their views and suggest designs.

 

The Honourable Patrick Lau's motion proposed to set up an inter-departmental group to co-ordinate district planning, and the Honourable Lee Wing-tat's amendment motion proposed to set up an organization comprising representatives from District Councils, citizens, professionals and people from the cultural sector. I would like to point out that there is already an existing mechanism which adequately co-ordinates and supervises district planning work. There is a District Management Committee in each of the 18 districts in the territory chaired by the relevant District Officer with members which include the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the related District Council, and the representatives of government departments such as the Planning Department, Transport Department and Civil Engineering and Development Department, while the Chairmen of all the committees under the District Council were also in attendance. District planning falls within the jurisdiction of District Management Committees, and the facts show that the existing mechanism is working effectively. As such, I do not see the need to set up another mechanism, which could cause an overlap of duties and slow down the implementation of planning work.

 

Public participation

 

I fully agree with the amendment proposed by the Honourable Lee Wing-tat and the Honourable Alan Leong to strengthen public participation in the planning process. In order to enhance public participation, the government has strenuously encouraged professional organizations, the public and the locals to take part in the planning and design of their districts. Our aim is to develop each district with its own individual character through collective wisdom and concerted effort. The 'Harbour-front Enhancement Committee'(HEC) recently established by the government to collect opinions about the planning of the Victoria Harbour is a good example of public participation. Through setting up the HEC, we hope to strength public participation in the harbour's planning and development. The Committee has very wide representation, covering the professional, academic, and business sectors as well as representatives from the districts and the government. The HEC adopts an open and transparent mode of operation and welcomes ideas and suggestions from all sectors of the community.

 

In his proposed amendment, the Honourable Alan Leong has stated that we should conduct long-term planning for the whole territory in accordance with the concept of sustainable development. This tallies very well with our objective. In fact, the future planning concept of Lantau Island is based on the principles of sustainable development. With regard to the overall long-term planning of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy study is now at stage four. We will continue to consult various sectors of the community and professional organizations so that the overall long-term planning of Hong Kong is in line with the objectives of sustainable development.

 

Conclusion

 

I want to express my gratitude to the Honourable Patrick Lau for his motion, and to thank the Honourable Lee Wing-tat and the Honourable Alan Leong for their amendments. In fact, we share the same goal. The impetus behind us is our commitment to our home - Hong Kong. When we plan forward, apart from being flexible and making use of statutory and administrative measures, we also have to balance the different aspirations and co-ordinate the overall development of the community. We believe that the most effective way to achieve the above objectives is for the government to provide a planning framework which is backed by legislation and in line with the above principles. The existing Town Planning Ordinance and the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines provides the overall and directional framework while at the same time providing room for the specific and detailed planning of individual development projects according to their own characteristics. In encouraging and assisting the market to develop district character, we will have to balance the themes of the developments to avoid repetitions or incompatibility with the overall design of the city. I have carefully listened to the opinions put forth by the Members of the Legislative Council. I hope that all sectors of society will join hands with the Government, and that the Legislative Council will work more closely with the Administration, so as to develop urban planning with local characteristics of the 18 districts.

 

Thank you President.

 

Ends/Wednesday, November 24, 2004

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