Community participation to attain common goal



Public participation in town planning is a community building exercise where different sectors of society come together to identify their common goals, the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John C Tsang, said today (May 25).


"Community participation is a conciliatory process that serves to facilitate the ultimate implementation of town planning," he said.


Speaking at the conference on "Community Participation in Sustainable Development" organized by the British Council, Mr Tsang said, "Planning is not a science. It is an art of communicating with people from all spectrum of the community, engaging them in an evolving process.


"Individuals do not see things the same way, and different groups bear different interests, some more open and others more hidden. Some people are more interested. Others are more apathetic.


"Planning helps ensure that all the competing priorities can be satisfactorily represented, fully heard and thoroughly discussed," he said.


To this end, the Planning Department will trigger off the public consultation process when development options are generated for planning studies in general, while consultation for the more important studies will start even earlier.


"We would consult the public first on the scope and objectives of the study. We would consult again when the final recommendations are available," he said.


For most matters, public consultation fora will be held in conveniently located venues for members of the public to express their views. There will also be postings on the Planning Department web site to invite public comments.


For the more controversial subjects, separate focus group meetings for stakeholders will be held in addition to the public fora.


"At the end of each consultation, we would prepare a Public Consultation Report summarizing the comments received as well as the Government's responses. This serves as a public record of the proceedings for transparency purposes and a tool for follow up work," he said.


He cited the revision of the statutory plan for the Central District Extension as an example to show that the Government has been proactive in responding to all public comments raised during the exhibition period of statutory plans.


The intense debate on the need to save the harbour prompted by the draft plan exhibited in 1998 proposing partial reclamation of the Victoria Harbour off Central District resulted in a review and modification of the remaining harbour reclamation schemes.


In 1999, the original plan was amended with a much reduced scale of reclamation. The project is now moving to the implementation stages.


Mr Tsang pointed out that getting the right stakeholders together and doing it with the right timing of consultation are essential.


"This would avoid the situation where conflicts only emerge when the project is at an advanced stage and considerable resources have already been spent. In the end, more time and resources would be wasted on defensive and remedial actions."


"Engaging the public in town planning has been the Hong Kong way, and the Government has every intention of widening and deepening that process further," he said.


"We are currently reviewing the statutory planning procedures with a view to streamlining and shortening the town planning procedures even further, whilst at the same time promoting even greater public involvement in the plan making process.


"We are aiming to submit a bill to the Legislative Council at the end of the year to effect these intentions," he said.


End/Saturday, May 25, 2002