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Work together to pave way for a new year ahead

Looking back, 2016 was an extraordinary year for Hong Kong.  Issues concerning land, housing, planning, conservation and public works expenditure had often become the focus of public opinion and highlighted the enormous responsibility of the Development Bureau.  I would like to thank my colleagues of various departments for their concerted efforts to withstand the pressure in the face of overwhelming public aspirations.  Thanks to their unrelenting efforts, we have managed to make substantial progress in our work.  Looking ahead to 2017, although the current term of government will soon end, we will not be a mere custodian government which avoids the imminent, difficult problems and lacks long-term planning.  Instead, we will continue to take on the challenges ahead and listen earnestly to the views of different stakeholders in the hope that our work will soon bear fruits and benefit the community.

Spare no efforts to identify developable land

We all understand the genuine demand for housing.  The current-term Government has been most determined and dedicated to tackle the problems of shortage of land and housing when compared to the past.  We strive to increase land supply through a multi-pronged strategy to provide more housing for the community].  Over the past few years, regardless of the accusations of “grabbing land blindly”, we have been  expediting land development to increase the supply of private residential units, while introducing property market cooling measures in a timely manner to depress speculative activities and curb investment demand with a view to stabilising the property market. The current property prices are still far beyond the reach of the general public, and we also notice the emergence of the so-called “nano flats” that appear to run contrary to the public aspiration for comfortable living environment.  We will closely monitor the situation, and members of the public should be mindful of the risks associated with these flats. Statistics show that in the first 11 months of 2016, there were about 24 000 private residential units under construction, the highest in 16 years.  It is estimated that the number of completed private residential units in the five years between 2016 and 2020 could reach an average of 20 000 units per year, representing a surge of 67 per cent when compared with the annual average of only 12 000 units in the previous 12 years.  In addition, it was estimated at the end of September 2016 that the supply of first-hand residential units in the coming three to four years would reach 93 000 units, a substantial increase of more than 43 per cent against the 65 000 units in mid-2012 when we took office.  All these demonstrate the fruitful results of our hard work.

Control the costs of infrastructure works

Over the past few years, Hong Kong has been facing the challenge of high construction costs.  We must adopt a more proactive and effective approach to properly control project costs.  Last June, we established the Project Cost Management Office dedicated to implementing cost management, as well as leading and co-ordinating various bureaux and works departments in managing the costs of public works projects.  We will also conduct extensive consultation with industry stakeholders and collaborate with them to promote reforms in the construction industry so as to achieve better results in cost control. We are happy to note the initial achievements as a result of our hard work in the past six months.  We have scrutinised about 60 public works projects totalling some $170 billion, which will then be submitted to the Legislative Council (LegCo) for funding approval.  More than $10 billion of the project costs have been saved by means of design optimisation.  Besides, through the collaboration with the industry stakeholders and under the latest economic situation, the Building Works Tender Price Index has reversed its upward trend over the past few years and become steady gradually.

Undeniable responsibility to ensure building safety

Apart from land development and construction cost management, we also have to deal with work in relation to urban renewal and structural safety of buildings.  Several major incidents last year, including the collapse of the roof of the sports centre at the City University of Hong Kong, the collapse of the Married Inspectors’ Quarters of the Former Central Police Station, and the No. 4 alarm fire at mini-storages in Ngau Tau Kok, have raised the alarm about structural and fire safety of buildings.  Every life matters and one accident is one too many.  We should never let down our guard regarding these issues.  I have instructed the relevant departments to carry out follow-up work properly to ensure structural safety of buildings in keeping with public expectations.

Proper supervision of water quality

Furthermore, the Government announced the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (COI) last year.  The report identifies the causes of the lead in water incident at housing estates, and points out the inadequacies of our existing legal framework and regulatory regime in safeguarding the safety and quality of drinking water.  We are actively following up on and implementing the recommendations made by the COI in order to address the inadequacies of the current system. In view of the concerns of the public and LegCo Members over the sources of drinking water and measures for safeguarding water quality, we have, after discussions with the relevant Guangdong authorities, preliminarily suggested that a duty visit be arranged for LegCo Members to inspect the Dongjiang River Basin during 19-20 February.  Members will learn more about the various facilities and measures for supplying Dongjiang water to Hong Kong and meet with the relevant officials.  Hopefully, the visit will help Members understand the work of the Guangdong authorities in safeguarding and monitoring the quality of Dongjiang water.  I hope that they will treasure this opportunity and refrain from politicising livelihood-related issues.

Collective wisdom for “Hong Kong 2030+”

On long-term planning, we launched public engagement for the “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030” in late October.  In the recent past, we have received many valuable views from the public on the updated territorial development strategy for Hong Kong.  The “Hong Kong 2030+” aims to provide guidelines for the city’s future planning as well as land and infrastructure development.  To conserve natural resources, we propose to focus on the development of one metropolitan business core, two strategic growth areas and three primary development axes.  Through these, not only can we preserve and enhance our natural assets, but also meet the land demand for housing, social and economic development; improve the spatial distribution of population and employment and bring jobs closer to homes; provide more community facilities and open spaces; as well as build up land reserve to enhance liveability. To create an ideal living environment, we are certainly aware that due regard should be given to the community facilities in the neighbourhood, supporting transport system, environmental preservation, etc.  We will continue to listen earnestly to different views in the hope that our future city planning would be more people-oriented for the enjoyment of the entire community.  Disagreement and arguments during the process are bound to exist as planning concerns different stakeholders in the community.  This notwithstanding, should we set aside prejudices and work together for the overall interest of Hong Kong, I believe that, with our team’s dedicated and persistent effort, the living conditions of the community would be gradually improved and Hong Kong would scale new heights in economic development. I wish you and your family peace and happiness, good health and full of blessings in the coming year.

1 January, 2017