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“Hong Kong 2030+”: Hong Kong 2030…Home

Amid the unpredictable global political and economic situations in recent years, Hong Kong is facing huge challenges in a globalised world, both internally and externally.  Externally, Hong Kong has to compete with our neighbouring major cities especially those in the Mainland and Southeast Asia, which are advancing quickly.  Internally, Hong Kong has to cope with problems such as ageing of both the population and our building stock.  There is a pressing demand for land for housing, economic activities and community facilities.

As a responsible Government, we have to make timely responses to these changes and demands with a view to edging ahead in this competitive era, as well as creating the best conditions with our limited resources to achieve sustainable development.  The territorial development strategy for Hong Kong that helps us embrace new challenges and guide the long-term planning, land and infrastructure development, as well as the shaping of the built and natural environment, will be updated around once every decade.  Building upon the foundation of the planning strategy announced in 2007, we have launched the “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030” (Hong Kong 2030+) a few days ago.  Through this comprehensive strategic planning study, we aim to discuss early with folks from different sectors and background on how to better prepare for and embrace the challenges and opportunities for Hong Kong that transcend 2030 from the spatial planning perspective.

Sustainable development to embrace challenges

The vision of “Hong Kong 2030+” is for Hong Kong to become a liveable, competitive and sustainable “Asia’s World City”. This development strategy comprises three building blocks, namely “Planning for a liveable high-density city”, “Embracing new economic challenges and opportunities”, and “Creating capacity for sustainable growth”.  It also proposes to focus on Hong Kong’s future development with “one metropolitan business core”, “two strategic growth areas” and “three primary development axes”, while conserving our vast, precious natural assets and enhancing liveability.

“Hong Kong 2030+” has touched upon the challenges and opportunities in various aspects without brushing away the long-standing, major and difficult issues.  Facing an ageing population, for instance, we propose to adopt the concept of “age-friendly” planning and design to create an age-friendly environment for the senior citizens.  Also in face of our ageing building stock, we propose to consider stepping up our urban regeneration efforts.  In response to the continual demand for land, we have emphasised yet again that developing brownfield sites is a clear option for land supply.  We are determined to take on the issue, even though it is no easy task to release brownfield sites for development and accommodating some of the existing business operations at the same time.  New Territories North, one of the proposed strategic growth areas with over 200 hectares of brownfield sites, is a quintessential example of utilising and developing vast brownfield sites for housing purpose alongside the improvement to the rural environment.  Fully committed to tackling the brownfield issue in a progressive manner, we will commence a study on the existing profile and operations of brownfield sites in the New Territories next year, in order to have a better understanding of the geographical distribution of brownfield sites and the operations thereon.  In fact, the Government has identified over 340 hectares of developable brownfield sites in Kwu Tung North, Fanling North, Hung Shui Kiu and Yuen Long South.  I will elaborate more on that in another blog entry.

Genuine shortage of land

The problem of land supply is one of the root causes of social conflicts in Hong Kong.  “Hong Kong 2030+” has made a comprehensive analysis on this acute problem.  According to the figures in hand, there is an anticipated demand for over 4 800 hectares of new land (including land for economic uses, housing, “Government, Institution or Community” (GIC) uses, open space, as well as transport and infrastructure facilities) in the long term.  Discounting the land supply from committed or planned new development area projects, including Kai Tak and Hung Shui Kiu NDA, our long-term land supply still falls short by about 1 200 hectares, including 200 hectares of housing land, 300 hectares of land for economic uses, and 700 hectares of land for GIC uses, open space, as well as transport and infrastructure facilities, etc.  This has yet to take into account the demand unforeseen at the moment.  If the committed or planned development projects could not complete as scheduled or could not be fully implemented, or that unforeseen demand emerges during the course, our land deficit will only worsen.  Therefore, “Hong Kong 2030+” proposes that our long-term planning should focus on active creation of capacity for both development and environment.  The two strategic growth areas, namely East Lantau Metropolis and New Territories North, capable of providing a total of 1 720 hectares of land for development, will be the solution to the long-term land deficit.

Creating capacity to build land reserve

Some people are saying that “creating development capacity” is de facto “over-planning”.  If there was indeed “over-planning”, it could only be due to the lack of a land reserve and planning space at the moment.  Last week, I shared with you the long process of transforming “potential sites” into “disposable sites”.  It is difficult to create land, and to create a land reserve is even harder.  Hong Kong’s problem has always been one about having “insufficient”, rather than “excessive”, land supply.  Without a land reserve, all that we can do is to catch up on the land supply shortage, and we never have the room and flexibility to meet the ever-changing needs.  More importantly, the planning focus of the two strategic growth areas is not only on providing land for housing development to cope with the continual population and household growth, but also on providing an opportunity to establish new hubs for economic and employment outside the traditional commercial districts so as to create a new economic platform.  It can also reduce the distance between “home” and “job” of the people, lessen the burden on transportation infrastructure, minimise the pain of long-distance commuting, as well as help reduce energy consumption and improve air quality.

Development and environment

Another misconception about “Hong Kong 2030+” is that we are pressing for “hardcore development”.  In fact, another focus we put forward in “Hong Kong 2030+” is to actively enhance the environmental capacity while pursuing development hand in hand, in order to promote sustainable development.  Considering that our natural resources are limited, not only do we have to ensure that no unacceptable impact would be brought to the environment in the course of development, we must also consider how the environment can be improved as a whole.  Instead of taking reactive mitigation measures post mortem, we should proactively take the initiative to improve and enhance environmental capacity, through for example leveraging on our green and blue assets and promoting green infrastructure, so as to create a sustainable environment and enhance biodiversity.  What we want to say is fostering economic activities, developing new land and conserving the environment are never mutually exclusive.  Our planning approach is not one of “develop first, conserve later”; to the contrary, development and conservation are both indispensable and inextricably intertwined, and will be taken forward in parallel.

I notice that members of the public are increasingly conscious of ecological and environmental conservation issues.  There are concerns that the Government’s “overly proactive” work on land creation such as developing the East Lantau Metropolis through reclamation, might lead to disastrous results.  The Government never takes ecology and environmental protection lightly.  In fact, “Hong Kong 2030+” suggests preserving places with high conservation value and giving priority to developing the damaged land (including brownfield sites), as well as developing abandoned fringe areas with low conservation value which are close to existing urban areas.  It also proposes integrated planning for a larger strategic growth area through reclamation outside Victoria Harbour.  We are committed to integrating environmental conservation and biodiversity considerations into our planning for development, with a view to creating, enhancing and regenerating environmental capacity and improving our environment.  In particular, the “Smart, Green and Resilient City Strategy” proposed in “Hong Kong 2030+” is exactly our well-thought-out response to the unavoidable climate change.

Planning by you

It has been just a few days since the promulgation of “Hong Kong 2030+”, and I am glad to see it has aroused enthusiastic discussions and views.  This explains why we arrange the six-month public engagement exercise to allow the public sufficient time to better understand the relevant topics and engage in interactive discussion.  “Hong Kong 2030+” touches on many aspects and topics.  Our colleagues from the Planning Department have spent much effort to turn complicated data into simple and comprehensible graphics, as well as systematic analyses, not to mention the various public engagement activities being arranged.  I hope that members of the public will spend some time to read the proposals of “Hong Kong 2030+” and related research papers carefully, or to take part in the public engagement activities.  Let’s make good use of this platform of “Hong Kong 2030+” to plan a future that belongs to you, that belongs to us all and that belongs to Hong Kong.

30 October, 2016