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Speech by SDEV at Symposium on Harbourfront Development 2013 (English only) (with photo)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, at the Symposium on Harbourfront Development 2013 today (October 4):

Good morning, distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen.

As the policy secretary responsible for harbourfront development and enhancement, and Vice Chair of the Harbourfront Commission, I am delighted to be here today to share with you the Hong Kong harbourfront story.

Victoria Harbour is the icon of our city. This is what has made us the "Pearl of the Orient". It is our vision to enhance Victoria Harbour and its harbourfront areas to become an attractive, vibrant, accessible and sustainable world-class asset: a harbour for the people and a harbour of vitality.

The Government is firmly committed to protecting the harbour and enhancing the harbourfront for our community.

The Financial Secretary has just briefly talked about the history of our Victoria Harbour and its development over the years, and how we have transformed from pioneer of reclamation to guardian of the harbour. I am not going to repeat what he has just said.

Let me start from the year 2004, which is an important turning point, when the Government made a high-profile statement of "No more reclamation" in Victoria Harbour, and started taking major steps to enhance the harbourfront. So, almost 10 years now, what have we achieved?

We have turned our vision into strategies on various fronts.

First, we plan with the people.

Second, we give clear policy direction to pursue harbourfront enhancement with firm commitment from the Government.

Third, we plan for the harbourfront at both territory-wide and district levels.

Lastly, we set clear priorities in mapping out and taking forward harbourfront enhancement initiatives.

In order to realise the vision of creating a harbourfront for the people, it is essential to engage the community in a proactive way. We have moved from traditional consultation to public engagement over the years, and we attach great importance to the spirit of "planning with the people" with a view to enhancing the quality and public support of our harbourfront planning.

One important move was the adoption of public participation in harbourfront development through the establishment of the Harbour-front Enhancement Committee (HEC) in 2004 and later its successor, the Harbourfront Commission (HC), in 2010. Having followed the most open and inclusive approaches, the HEC and later the HC have symbolised a high degree of public engagement from their composition to their mode of operation. Professional institutes, civic and environmental groups and the business sector are all widely represented in the HC, which also features the participation of several government departments. Through this platform, we forge consensus among stakeholders in an open and transparent engagement process.

I also wish to let you know the Government attaches great importance to harbour protection and harbourfront enhancement. The former Chief Executive affirmed this commitment twice in his 2008-09 and 2009-10 Policy Addresses. And this year harbourfront enhancement has again been highlighted in the Policy Address.

This is more than just policy statements. In 2009, the Government set up a dedicated Harbour Unit within the Development Bureau to champion harbourfront enhancement initiatives within the Government, and also to provide secretariat support to the Harbourfront Commission.

Acknowledging the high-level recognition of our cause, exemplified by a General Circular issued by the Chief Secretary for Administration in 2010, all government bureaux and departments have been working closely with the HC and giving due consideration of its views in taking forward their respective projects at the harbourfront.

At the territory-wide level, the Harbour Planning Principles and Guidelines formulated by the former HEC have provided detailed guidance on land use planning, urban design, landscaping, connectivity and accessibility, temporary uses and more, and these have been widely adopted by both the Government and stakeholders.

At the district level, the Government has initiated various planning studies, taking into account the characteristics of individual sites. For new harbourfront areas, the studies have focused on overall planning and layout as well as urban design, such as devising suitable area-wide building height profiles, reserving immediate waterfronts for promenade development by requiring building setbacks. As for developed harbourfront areas, the studies have focused on enhancing the existing developments as well as improving connectivity and accessibility.

Ladies and gentlemen, we set clear priorities in mapping out and taking forward various harbourfront enhancement initiatives. Through effective resources allocation, we aim to provide a continuous promenade along both sides of the harbour for public enjoyment, subject to actual circumstances of individual sites.

The 22 Action Areas drawn up by the former HEC have set the agenda for our action and we are pressing ahead progressively with various short-, medium- and long-term projects.

Through working in close partnership with the former HEC and the HC, we have started the longer-term planning for large-scale harbourfront projects, such as the New Central Harbourfront, the Kai Tak Development and the West Kowloon Cultural District, and have brought to fruition a number of "quick-win" projects in recent years for early public enjoyment.

Some may wonder why such quick-win minor works projects are worth mentioning. You will know after listening to the little stories behind them.

Look at this project - the Sheung Wan Section of the Central and Western District Promenade. This is a product of collaborative efforts in the HEC era. This was a Drainage Services Department (DSD) pumping station project located right at the waterfront to discharge rainwater from the low-lying areas in Sheung Wan to mitigate flooding problems.

The design was originally a massive structure that would block the sea view from inland and made the waterfront inaccessible. Through active engagement with the Central and Western District Council and the former HEC, the DSD re-oriented the superstructure to minimise blockage of sea views, reduced the size and height of the building, and reduced the above-ground footprint by placing some of the equipment underground. As a result, part of the maintenance area was released for the construction of a promenade.

That was a win-win collaborative solution: the DSD delivered its pumping station while a promenade with a pet garden and passive open space was made available for public enjoyment.

Another quick-win story is about how we turned a former public cargo working area (PCWA) into a promenade in Kwun Tong.

This 1-kilometre-long waterfront PCWA was used to support manufacturing industries. With such industrial activities relocated to the Mainland and factories nearby no longer requiring a cargo port, this became a place mainly for handling used paper and materials for recycling. This piece of the Kwun Tong waterfront had been zoned for open space in the long run, but it would still take some time to wait for the decommissioning of the PCWA.

On the advice of the former HEC, the Government consolidated the space requirements of the area. While keeping the facility in operation, a 200-metre section was released first for construction of a promenade. With concerted efforts of government departments, and the support of the District Council in fitting out with its own funding a dormant strip between the promenade and the road to provide public access, this Kwun Tong Promenade Stage 1 was built and opened to the public in 2010. It is now a popular promenade, especially for young people and photographers who are excited to visit to capture the beautiful sunset view. Despite it being a quick-win solution, you may note that some new architectural features and designs have been added at the promenade, including a special landmark tower with a design concept referencing the piles of recycled paper at the former site.

Following the decommissioning of the PCWA, the Government has proceeded with the Stage 2 project. When works are completed by the end of 2014, the two sections will be connected to form a 1km-long promenade in Kwun Tong.

A quick-win project may appear to be minor on its own, but it could be significant as the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The 500m Hung Hom promenade is such an example.

Several years ago, a seaside stroll from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hung Hom would be interrupted in the last mile by a 500m section with a fenced-off waterfront site. People had to take a detour away from the seashore.

Again, with the support of the former HEC and the Yau Tsim Mong and Kowloon City District Councils, the Development Bureau co-ordinated with various government departments to transform this bare ground for public access. Completed in 2011, the Hung Hom Waterfront Promenade links up the 4km-long waterfront from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hung Hom.

The recently completed Quarry Bay Promenade is a public-private collaboration initiative that is also worth mentioning.

The tricky part of this project was that part of the promenade is located within a private lot. After rounds of discussions, the lot owner, New Hong Kong Tunnel Company, agreed to release a strip of waterfront area for public access at no cost, which enabled us to construct this promenade to link up Quarry Bay Park and North Point, and extend further the continuous promenade in Island East.

A quick win is not only about building promenades but also about adding vibrancy and diversity to the waterfront.

While the broad development parameters of the New Central Harbourfront were largely determined in the Urban Design Study completed two years ago and some of the sites have been formed, the permanent development of the whole area is still pending the completion of the remaining road works and reclamation.

To enable early public enjoyment of this prominent waterfront area, we completed an advance promenade last year and we are now making progress on various temporary uses thereon, by introducing a giant Ferris wheel, using part of the site for events, and opening up areas for a temporary pet garden and passive open space.

All these quick-win examples are perhaps just small steps forward in terms of size and length. But collectively they represent a great leap forward as the new collaborative approach and creative mindset in harbourfront enhancement has taken root.

However, challenges still abound.

Victoria Harbour's 73km-long harbourfront is not a blank canvas. Many of the harbourfront areas have been developed over the years and are occupied by public facilities; roads and infrastructure; residential, commercial and industrial buildings; and more. Some harbourfront sites are also required for port operations.

These have posed constraints for constructing a continuous promenade on both sides of the harbour.

Second, harbourfront enhancement projects are mostly co-ordinated by policy bureaux and implemented by departments, on the advice of the Harbourfront Commission. But the government build-and-operate model is not without its limitations.

It normally takes five years or more for the Government to plan and develop a promenade, and it may take longer if there is competition for resources among leisure and recreational facilities as well as among other public works projects like hospitals, schools, infrastructure and more. That is why we have taken the route of quick-win projects through minor works in the past few years, but this is not the way to realise our dreams about the harbourfront.

In addition, while the existing management framework has been effective in managing district parks, uniform rules may limit the potential of some waterfront parks and promenades in prominent locations. And while there has been gradual improvement in the design of promenades in recent years, creative or unconventional designs may not be easily pursued given systemic constraints, such as those relating to the statutory framework, resources or site locations.

We know what our challenges are and we are identifying ways to overcome the constraints. So, what are our opportunities ahead?

Upon the completion of the recent reclamation works in Victoria Harbour, new harbourfront sites will be available in prominent waterfront areas in Central from 2016 and in Wan Chai between 2018 and 2020.

In addition, there are also other harbourfront sites with good potential to become vibrant places, such as Quarry Bay and Hung Hom harbourfront areas, as well as the proposed boardwalk underneath the Island Eastern Corridor.

To address the challenges and seize the opportunities, the greatest issue is not from material aspects, such as money and technology. We also do not lack the will. Perhaps the real issue is whether we can find the most suitable institutional setup to unleash the full potential of our harbourfront.

Our experience in the past nine years or so has revealed to us that an attractive and vibrant harbourfront has to be designed, developed and managed in a holistic manner, and a place-making approach is required. Quality urban design and landscape are crucial, but in addition the places should be filled with interesting attractions, activities, events and festivals to meet the diversified interests of the general public. Furthermore, a vibrant harbourfront needs some level of market responsiveness, such as suitable food and beverage and entertainment facilities, so that people will visit and activities will flourish. And revenue will be generated to plough back to support ongoing activities at the harbourfront.

All the above leads us to a question: Shall we set up a dedicated harbourfront authority to make all this happen? We are now collaborating with the Harbourfront Commission to engage the wider community to find an answer to this question.

Each harbourfront city has its own challenges and opportunities, its tailored mechanism to resolve difficulties, and its strategies and recipes to turn vision into reality.

Today's symposium provides an excellent platform for us to learn from the experiences of other great waterfront cities, especially their successful models and approaches in shaping and managing their waterfronts, and to discuss our own way forward.

Today also marks the beginning of a public engagement exercise for the proposed establishment of a harbourfront authority, which would be led by the Harbourfront Commission under the able leadership of Mr Nick Brooke and Mr Vincent Ng and fully supported by the Development Bureau.

Victoria Harbour is an important public asset and indeed a world-class asset, for the people and our future generations.

We look forward to your active participation in the public engagement exercise and to working together in realising our dreams of building an attractive and vibrant harbourfront that we can all enjoy.

I wish you all a very fruitful morning. Thank you.
Ends/Friday, October 4, 2013
Issued at HKT 13:10

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The Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, today (October 4) delivers a speech at the Symposium on Harbourfront Development 2013 organised by the Harbourfront Commission.


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