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LCQ15: Naming of geographical places

Following is a question by the Hon Tony Tse and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (December 9):

Question:

Under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), the Director of Lands is authorised to assign names to streets in Hong Kong and the entire process must proceed in line with the requirements under the relevant legislation.  On the other hand, the naming of geographical places is not subject to any statutory regulation.  Under the current arrangements, the cross-departmental Geographical Place Names Board (the Board) established under the Survey and Mapping Office (SMO) of the Lands Department is responsible for the establishment, implementation and review of the procedures for naming, verification and adoption of geographical place names.  It is learnt that the procedures adopted by the Board for handling cases of geographical place naming include: (i) seeking the consent of the District Councils concerned, (ii) placing advertisements in local newspapers, and (iii) posting notices at the District Offices, the District Lands Offices and the Survey Offices of the relevant districts, the SMO Headquarters as well as the places to be named for public consultation.  The geographical place names adopted will be used on the official maps published by the Lands Department but they are not meant to be legally binding.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the average number of cases of geographical place naming (including adoption of new geographical place names and change of existing geographical place names) handled by the Board in each of the past three years, together with a breakdown by District Council district;
 
(2) of the longest time and the average time taken by the Board to handle cases of geographical place naming last year;

(3) of the respective numbers of cases of geographical place naming received by the Board since its inception which were initiated by members of the public and by the Government; the number of cases in dispute, with a breakdown by District Council district; the major issues involved in the disputes in question;

(4) of the government departments from which officers who are members of the Board at present are drawn and their ranks; the criteria based on which the Board handles the cases of geographical place naming, and whether the Board is required, pursuant to such criteria, to take into account relevant factors such as how well the adopted names are received by the public and historical factors;

(5) whether there are existing channels and mechanisms for the public to express their views and make relevant recommendations on the geographical place names adopted by the Board which they consider to be inappropriate;

(6) whether the authorities conducted reviews in the past three years of the mechanism for naming geographical places and its effectiveness; if they did, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether they will conduct such reviews; and

(7) whether there are plans to legislate on the procedures and system for naming geographical places with reference to the street naming mechanism; if there are, of the details and the implementation timetable; if not, the justifications for that?

Reply:

President,

In consultation with the Lands Department (LandsD), my reply to the seven parts of the Hon Tony Tse's question is as follows:

(1) Between December 2012 and November 2015, the Geographical Place Names Board (GPNB) received and processed six geographical place naming proposals.  The number of cases as broken down by district is as follows: one case in Tai Po District, three cases in Yuen Long District, one case in North District and one case in Islands District.

(2) Between December 2014 and November 2015, the GPNB finished processing two applications of geographical place naming.  The average processing time of these applications was six months, and the longest processing time was nine months.

(3) Since the establishment of the GPNB in 1987, 55 geographical place naming applications were initiated by members of the public and 144 applications were initiated by government departments.  Amongst these, there was dispute in 17 cases.  The number of cases in dispute broken down by district is as follows: five cases in Yuen Long District, five cases in North District, three cases in Sai Kung District, one case in Kwai Tsing District, one case in Southern District, one case in Tai Po District and one case in Yau Tsim Mong District.  The cases were in dispute mainly because local residents and representatives were unable to reach a consensus on the geographical place naming proposals.  The applicants of the said 17 applications have all been informed that the cases could not be processed any further.

(4) The membership of the GPNB comprises representatives of different ranks (including directorate and non-directorate) from relevant government departments, including the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the Home Affairs Department, Hongkong Post, the Information Services Department, the LandsD, the Marine Department, the Rating and Valuation Department, and the Official Languages Division of the Civil Service Bureau.

The GPNB processes geographical place naming applications according to relevant internal guidelines and criteria, including the following:

(i) There should be a practical need in introducing new names in written document or in verbal communication;

(ii) The names chosen should generally be neutral and not related to individual persons, institutions or goods;

(iii) Complicated or rarely-used Chinese characters should be avoided in geographical place names; and

(iv) Requests for name changes will only be considered with sufficient justifications, such as when existing geographical place names are vulgar and may cause embarrassment in verbal communication or in writing.

Representatives of local residents and local organisations will be consulted via the Home Affairs Department on the proposed geographical place names.  The proposals will then be submitted to the GPNB for consideration.  Upon the GPNB's endorsement, the proposals will be submitted to the relevant District Councils for endorsement.  After the relevant District Councils have endorsed the proposals, notices of the proposed geographical place names will be advertised in newspapers for public consultation.  If members of the public hold different views on the proposals, their views will be submitted to the GPNB for a decision.  If no objection from the public is received, the GPNB will adopt the proposed geographical place names.

(5) If members of the public hold different views on geographical place names which have already been adopted by the GPNB, they can submit new proposals to the GPNB for consideration.

(6) The existing geographical place naming mechanism is operating smoothly.  The LandsD has been closely monitoring the effectiveness of the existing mechanism, and currently does not have any plan to conduct a review of the mechanism.

(7) As the existing geographical place naming mechanism is operating smoothly, the LandsD currently does not have any plan to regulate the geographical place naming procedures through legislation.

Ends/Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:32

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