To renew our urban fabric and enhance Hong Kong's status as an international city, we should improve the environment of the older urban areas, revitalize the deteriorating localities whilst preserving their unique characteristics in a holistic fashion, the Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands (Planning and Lands), Mr John C Tsang, said today (October 12).
Speaking at the Building Surveyors Conference 2002 of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, Mr Tsang said that revitalization of the built environment and transformation of the older urban areas to meet modern city living requirements was an immense challenge. To help meet this challenge, the Government had given the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) a new mandate when it was established in May, 2001.
"It prescribes the promotion of rehabilitation of older buildings, in addition to the preservation of buildings of historical, cultural and architectural interests and the traditional redevelopment of dilapidated buildings," he said.
"We had relied principally on redevelopment to address the issue of deterioration in the urban environment in the past. However, project-based redevelopment, by its very nature, tends to be piecemeal and carries little scope for district-wide improvement. The long lead time to complete the redevelopment process also makes the urban renewal programme unsustainable as urban renewal is outpaced by urban deterioration."
Following the new mandate, the URA has since its establishment been actively examining the feasibility of rehabilitation. Noting that the URA is now in the process of fleshing out the principles and proposals for rehabilitation, Mr Tsang raised three ideas for discussion and emphasized the importance of the "three-pronged" approach to urban renewal.
"First of all, the URA could introduce in its target areas a co-ordinating scheme similar to the Co-ordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme of the Buildings Department. Besides co-ordination, the URA could offer logistical and technical support in carryout out necessary repair work.
"Secondly, the URA could also consider street level revitalization. The idea is to revive and strengthen the socio-economic and environmental fabric of areas around URA project areas in order to renew and regenerate the entire district.
"Finally, the URA could consider focusing its rehabilitation and revitalization efforts in one or more of its target areas in the first instance to demonstrate fully the possible impact of a holistic approach and entice private property owners to invest in the maintenance of their own buildings."
"In sorting out the rehabilitation scheme for the Corporate Plan, the URA should examine how its work on rehabilitation should be integrated with redevelopment and preservation efforts in a comprehensive manner.
" We should approach an entire area instead of individual buildings or small blocks of buildings, and employ all these modes of renewal together in bringing about a new look for our community. It is only through such a holistic approach that we can optimize the use of resources to renew our urban fabric in an effective and sustainable fashion."
Mr Tsang emphasized the importance of a public-private sector partnership and that the Government required the involvement of the private sector and would rely on market forces as much as possible to rejuvenate the urban landscape.
"The public sector could not afford, even at the best of times, to shoulder the maintenance responsibility of all private buildings. Moreover, the principle that owners have the ultimate responsibility for looking after the well-being of their own buildings, and that proper maintenance is the duty of owners should continue to be observed."
The Government has expanded the enforcement against unauthorized building works by engaging more private sector building professionals in the investigation and enforcement against those eye-sores.
It is also planning to institute some form of building classification systems as an incentive for owners to keep up their maintenance responsibility. Buildings attaining satisfactory standards will be rated higher, and that will result naturally in better market value.
In this regard, the Buildings Department has commissioned a consultancy on a possible grading scheme for buildings to provide an easy and objective reference as to how a building fares in terms of maintenance.
"The Government and the URA would continue to work sensitively together in partnership with the building owners, developers and building professionals to make the regeneration of our older urban areas a success," Mr Tsang added.
End/Saturday, October 12, 2002