Speech by SPEL at Special FC meeting on draft Estimates

The following is the speech by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, Mr Gordon Siu, at the Special Finance Committee Meeting to examine the draft Estimates of Expenditure 1999/2000 today (Wednesday):

Mr Chairman,

I am responsible for formulating and co-ordinating policies for programmes in two policy areas - Buildings, Lands and Planning and Environmental Protection.

The delivery of services and enforcement of legislation under these policy areas are undertaken by 11 departments. I have with me this morning the Controlling Officers of nine of these departments.

Since last year, we have implemented a number of initiatives in our two policy areas. In view of the time constraint, I will focus mainly on some of the work we plan to undertake in 1999/2000.

On the Planning front, the Town Planning (Amendment) Ordinance 1998 came into operation last April. All draft plans published since then have to be submitted to the Chief Executive in Council for a final decision within a period of nine months. This has speeded up the process considerably. We will also introduce the comprehensive Town Planning Bill into the current Legislative Council session. The Bill will try to balance the views expressed by the many stakeholders and to make our town planning system more open, accountable and efficient.

The release of the Territorial Development Strategy Review in February last year has led to debates on a number of major planning issues, including a review of major reclamation projects. These issues have implications for the long term development of Hong Kong. We will consider all these questions and conduct comprehensive consultation when we come to map out the development of Hong Kong in the 21st century.

Our work on the Crosslinks Further Study is progressing well. The assessment of the cross-boundary traffic demand will be completed next month. The next stage of the Study, which examines environmental, planning, land acquisition and economic viability issues, will be completed by June this year. The findings of the Study will enable us to make a decision on the construction of two cross-boundary links, i.e. the Shenzhen Western Corridor and the Lingdingyang Bridge.

Building Safety is a priority area for us. We will set up a dedicated task force to step up the demolition of unauthorised rooftop structures in single staircase buildings. The main theme of this task is to provide a fire refuge for occupants of these buildings.

In August last year, Government launched the Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme to encourage and help building owners to carry out maintenance and improvement works on their buildings by providing low-interest loans to finance these works. We will review the procedures and conditions for the loan applications to ensure that building owners can benefit from the Scheme easily.

With regard to Urban Renewal, we are drawing up proposals for an Urban Renewal Strategy which looks imaginatively at how best to replenish the physical infrastructure in the old urban areas. We aim to identify which old urban areas need to be renewed and set out their priority and resources required.

We plan to create a new Division in the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau in this year to prepare for the establishment and operation of the Urban Renewal Authority, and to improve policy co-ordination of matters relating to the maintenance/rehabilitation of buildings, unauthorised building works, advertisement signs and land registration.

Mr Chairman, I would now like to turn to other part of my portfolio, the Environment.

Increases in population and economic activities have brought us different environmental problems. The quality of our air; the waste of energy and materials; and the degradation of our natural resources - all these are unacceptable in a city that aspires to be one of the world's great cities. Change is essential, and that change must begin within Government. Setting a better example for others to follow is at the heart of our programme for the coming year.

All departments and bureaux are being required to prepare environmental reports. This is to ensure that top management groups consider the environmental performance of their own organisation, the example that it sets, and the impacts that its policies and programmes have on our environment.

To help individual departments and bureaux make their assessments, and to provide a mechanism that will encourage greater integration of efforts between different policy and programme areas, the 'Sustainable Development for the 21st Century' study is developing 'indicators of sustainable development', and tools to use them consistently. These will help to develop awareness and understanding of the linkages between different policies and departmental activities. It is our objective that they should serve to build better team work to achieve win-win solutions for Hong Kong's environmental, economic and social needs, rather than trading off one against the others.

EMSD is giving advice to departments on energy savings measures. Under the waste reduction framework plan, a Government task force to reduce the waste that we produce will be set up. The Government Supplies Department is about to let a tender for the supply of recycled paper for Government departments. We will also work to extend the support that Government purchasing programmes can give to the environmentally responsible use of resources.

As a bureau, we will strongly support the Healthy Living for the 21st Century campaign. Our focus will be on the protection of health by reduction of air, noise and water pollution, and on improvement to living quality by better urban planning, building regulation and conservation of natural resources. Air pollution, particularly from vehicle emissions, is at the top of that agenda. We will also be closely involved in the preparation for the new Bureau of Environment and Food, and other institutional arrangements associated with that.

We have already started a process of much closer involvement with the community to develop and implement environmental programmes - and to consider the planning issues that have such a powerful, lasting effect on environmental quality. This will continue, and a key part will be the development of a partnership with this council to achieve environmental improvement for Hong Kong. Neither the public service nor the Legislative Council acting in isolation can bring about the changes needed to transform Hong Kong's environment. In partnership we can accomplish much that the community expects of us.

The Controlling Officers and I will be happy to answer any questions Members may have.

End/Wednesday, March 17, 1999