LegCo: Speech by Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands on Motion of Thanks

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, Mr Gordon Siu, on the Motion of Thanks in the Legislative Council today (Wednesday):

Madam President,

I would like to thank all Members of this Council who have raised valuable points about environmental protection, city planning and urban renewal during the debate on the motion of thanks on the Policy Address. I also thank Members again for views expressed during the motion debate on the environment on 13 October.

I will not repeat points that have already been made during that earlier debate. My colleagues in the Bureau have recorded the views of Members. My colleagues and I will follow up and discuss in more details each and every point with the Panel on Environmental Affairs and the Panel on Planning, Lands and Works respectively in the coming days.

I would like to speak about two topics today: the urban renewal programme and the prospects of environment work.

The Government issued last week a consultation paper on the Urban Renewal Authority Bill for public comments on our proposal to establishment an Urban Renewal Authority (URA). During the consultation period over the next few weeks, my colleagues and I will discuss with Members the Government's detailed proposals on this very important subject, and we look forward to hearing Members' views and comments.

It has been asked why we need to draft a new Bill and not just amend the existing legislation? Simply speaking, we need to steer away from the traditional approach and adopt a new and comprehensive approach to expedite urban renewal. Hong Kong is facing an urban crisis. Of the buildings over 30 years old in Hong Kong, many are experiencing premature aging as a result of the lack of proper maintenance. The number of buildings over 30 years old is projected to increase by 50% in 10 year's time. We need a new strategy to tackle this problem.

Our proposed urban renewal programme seeks to create a "win-win-win" situation; the affected tenants, the property owners and the entire urban district of Hong Kong will all benefit.

First, the tenants who are now living in dilapidated buildings in crowded and unhygienic conditions will benefit. Urban redevelopment will bring real improvements to their living conditions. I firmly believe that the URA will work closely with the Housing Authority and Housing Society to ensure that affected tenants will be properly rehoused.

Secondly, the property owners will also benefit. Owing to the multiple ownership in old buildings and the lack of capital, many owners are unable to carry out redevelopment of their properties by themselves. Under the existing legislation for the acquisition of land and redevelopment, private developers are not keen to participate in such redevelopment projects. The establishment of the URA will provide a new opportunity to owners. Owner-occupiers affected by urban redevelopment are eligible for statutory compensation plus an ex-gratia allowance to enable them to purchase a replacement flat of a similar size and about 10 years old in the same locality.

Thirdly, the new urban renewal programme will improve the entire urban district of Hong Kong. The district will be replanned and restructured and more open space and community facilities will be provided. Residents who live in buildings not redeveloped will benefit as a result of a much improved and more environmentally friendly neighbourhood.

In implementing our urban renewal programme, we will strictly adhere to the principle of the protection of the rights of the individual. While we will balance the interests of all sectors of the community, we will not sacrifice the interests of any group in the process of urban redevelopment.

Next, I would like to speak about the environment. Some who has questioned why the environmental improvement programme set out in this year's Policy Address only focuses on ways to mitigate damages from past pollution and to reduce future pollution. Other than these, they see no real benefits. I am afraid this view only represents half the picture of the Government's environmental programme. This is because full implementation of our environmental improvement programme will bring about gains not directly related to environmental protection to the community.

Let me give you three examples. First, when we ask the question about how to improve efficiency in the use of materials and resources, new ideas for business will be generated. That is good for investments and creates demand for environmental management services. These may include professional services which specialize in cleaning up pollution, reducing causes of environmental pollution and improving material usage so as to meet environmental protection objectives. These are services that Hong Kong companies can offer not just locally but also in South China and the wider region. There is great potential here for business, and such services can help reduce pressures on the regional environment, which in turn can benefit Hong Kong.

Secondly, we will vigorously promote material recovery over the next few months. If every household and every company pays attention to avoiding waste and to separating materials, the high costs to the community for disposing of waste can be avoided, and more opportunities can be created for businesses engaged in the reuse of materials.

Thirdly, a local university is developing a unique type of particulate filter to reduce pollution which can be retrofitted at low costs to vehicles in service. The support that we are giving to help develop and test it will not just create employment in the manufacturing of and the fitting out of these filters, but could also help reduce air quality problems caused by vehicles. The product could also be introduced to other cities in Asia.

Hong Kong has been a powerhouse for economic development because of our creativity and initiative. Our future, and that of our children, depends upon Hong Kong becoming a powerhouse for sustainable development. I believe that Hong Kong is capable of becoming a locomotive for the development of a "green industry" in Asia.

The promotion of sustainable development in Hong Kong is not just about developing a sustainable environment. It is a matter of developing a spirit of sustainable development and planning ahead for the future. That spirit grows from our concern for our children and the action we take to plan for their future. Our success today comes from the hard work of an earlier generation who strived hard in order to provide better educational, career and other prospects for us. Similarly, our generation is striving to provide for the education and career development of our children. This is absolutely right. But on the threshold of the 21st Century, our concern for the next generation should go beyond caring for the educational, career and daily needs of our children. We should also be concerned about improving the environment they will live in. We should provide a better and more comfortable city for our children and future generations. Some of our most important tasks in the coming year are to encourage cooperation among the different sectors of society and to stimulate participation at every level to improve the local and regional environment.

The challenge ahead is daunting, but I do take heart from the growing sense of common purpose. I trust that a shared vision for a fine environment and a creative, vibrant city will help us all in the coming years to achieve great things together.

End/Wednesday, October 27, 1999