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LCQ1: Measures to improve living environment

 

 

Following is a question by the Hon Albert Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John C Tsang, in the Legislative Council today (January 30):

 

 

Question:

 

In his 1999 Policy Address, the Chief Executive states, "a world-class city must have a pleasant and safe living environment". However, the living environment of people in old urban areas has seen little improvement. Moreover, rural development in the New Territories lacks planning, the New Territories Small House Policy has given rise to many environmental problems, and the living environment of many villages is still deplorable. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

 

(a) of the relevant measures it had drawn up when it stated the objective to improve people's living environment;

 

(b) of the measures that have already been implemented, are still being implemented, or are awaiting implementation for achieving the above objective; the specific target completion time of the measures to improve the living environment in old urban areas and address environmental problems arising from the New Territories Small House Policy; and

 

(c) whether it has drawn up further specific measures to thoroughly solve the problems concerning people's living environment; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

 

Reply:

 

Madam President,

 

To improve the living environment of our citizens, the Chief Executive announced a number of measures in his 1999 Policy Address. I will answer Mr Chan's question by going through those measures which come under the purview of the Planning and Lands Bureau. These measures include urban renewal, beautification of the Victoria Harbour and enhancing the quality of buildings. Mr Chan also asked about the planning for rural development in the New Territories, on which I would also respond. As the coverage of Mr Chan's questions is wide and the number of subjects large, my reply will have of necessity to be relatively long.

 

Major Initiatives

 

On urban renewal, the Government put forward four major measures at the time:

 

(a)to publish a White Bill on the establishment of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) for public consultation before introducing the Bill into the Legislative Council;

 

(b)to formulate the Urban Renewal Strategy (URS) as the blueprint for urban redevelopment for the next 20 years;

 

(c)to incorporate the concept of heritage preservation into urban renewal projects; and

 

(d)to put in place financial arrangements for the implementation of the urban renewal programme.

 

 

To protect the Victoria Harbour and make it more beautiful, the Government put forward three major planning related measures:

 

(a)to scale back the reclamation planned for the Harbour;

 

(b)to initiate studies and reviews on the use of the land along the waterfront on both sides of the Harbour, to provide additional pedestrian facilities along the waterfront and to allocate venues for arts, cultural and recreational activities; and

 

(c)to hold an open competition to create a new look for the Harbour.

 

In order to promote building maintenance and environmentally friendly buildings, the Government put forward three major measures:

 

(a)to propose a scheme on preventive maintenance of buildings for public consultation;

 

(b)to step up clearance of high risk unauthorised rooftop structures; and

 

(c)to promote energy efficiency in building design.

 

I will now brief Members on the implementation of these measures.

 

Urban Renewal

 

As regards urban renewal, the Urban Renewal Authority Bill was published in the Gazette in the form of a White Bill in October 1999. After consulting the public, we introduced the Bill into this Council in February 2000. The Bill was passed in June 2000. Under the Urban Renewal Authority Ordinance, one of the purposes of the URA is to preserve buildings and sites of historical, cultural or architectural interest.

 

The URA was established in May 2001. Following a public consultation exercise on the draft URS, the URS was finalised in November 2001. The Strategy was issued to the URA to provide policy guidelines in the implementation of a massive 20-year urban renewal programme.

 

The URA announced the implementation of three "early-launch" projects in Sham Shiu Po, Tai Kok Tsui and Wan Chai respectively three weeks ago. These projects will contribute towards the improvement of the environment and the quality of life of the residents in these old urban districts.

 

The URA is preparing its draft five-year corporate plan and draft annual business plan for submission to the Financial Secretary for approval. The Government will consider the necessary financial support to the URA to facilitate the implementation of the urban renewal programme in the context of scrutinising the draft plans. We will provide all necessary assistance to the URA to expedite its work in rejuvenating old urban areas.

 

Protection and Beautification of the Victoria Harbour

 

As regards planning for the Victoria Harbour, the Government has significantly reduced the scale of reclamation in the Harbour. The total area of reclamation in South East Kowloon, Central Reclamation Phase III and Wanchai Development Phase II has been reduced from 376 hectares to 180 hectares. This reflects the Government's sincerity and determination to protect the Harbour.

 

Moreover, taking into account public views, the Government has revised and improved several development plans on both sides of the Harbour. Extensive public consultation was carried out on the development plans in 2000. These development plans include the overall planning and feasibility study of the South East Kowloon Development completed in mid-2001; the planning and feasibility study of the Wanchai Development Phase II completed in late 2001; and the detailed design of the Central Reclamation Phase III to be completed early this year.

 

We have reserved land for the building of world-class waterfront promenades and pedestrian linkages within the above development projects. Upon completion of these projects, we will build a continuous promenade along the waterfront on each side of the Harbour. Part of the waterfront promenades will be reserved for entertainment facilities, retail shops and sidewalk cafes for the enjoyment of tourists and the public.

 

Apart from the above development projects, a "Planning Study on the Harbour and its Waterfront Areas" was launched by the Planning Department in December 1999 with a view to exploring ways to further enhance the attractiveness of the waterfront areas of the Harbour. The possibilities considered include the provision of comprehensive pedestrian links between the waterfront areas and the hinterland, the development of more tourist spots and the improvement of the design of waterfront areas and related facilities. The Planning Department completed the first stage of the Study and carried out a public consultation exercise on the initial findings in 2001. The Study was widely supported by the public and we now plan to formulate a harbour planning framework as the next step.

 

Besides, we launched a major open competition in April 2001 to invite conceptual proposals for the development of a 40-hectare waterfront site at the south western tip of Kowloon into an integrated arts, cultural and entertainment district. We received 161 entries and the response to the competition has been most encouraging. When the area is fully developed, world-class facilities will be provided, offering more opportunities for our citizens to enjoy arts and cultural activities and improving their quality of life.

 

With regard to our long term planning, the Planning Department is now conducting the "Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy" Study. The main objective of the Study is to provide a quality living and working environment through land use planning. The Planning Department is now conducting the Stage Two Public Consultation of the Study concerning various key issues on long term planning. We shall consult the Panel on Planning, Lands and Works on the Study shortly.

 

Building Maintenance and Green Buildings

 

In November 2000 to March 2001, the Task Force on Building Safety and Preventive Maintenance under this Bureau widely consulted the public on its proposed strategy to promote building safety and timely maintenance. We subsequently announced the implementation plan for the comprehensive strategy. The main features of the strategy include enhanced support for building owners and strengthening co-ordination in enforcement against unauthorised building works.

 

The various proposals in the comprehensive strategy are being implemented progressively. As regards enhancing support for building owners, we merged the Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme and the Fire Safety Improvement Loan Scheme in July 2001 into a Comprehensive Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme with a loan fund of $700 million. Under the new scheme, application procedures are simplified and streamlined. Security requirements are also made less stringent than the old schemes.

 

As regards strengthening enforcement against unauthorised building works, the Buildings Department has been conducting "blitz" operations in which unauthorised building works on hundreds of buildings are cleared. Our original plan was to clear unauthorised building works in 1 500 buildings this year. To expedite the clearance programme, we awarded 60 contracts to building professionals at the end of 2001 to cover the inspection of 3 200 buildings for necessary enforcement action.

 

At the same time, the Buildings Department, in collaboration with other enforcement departments, has been surveying target buildings since late 2000 to advise owners and owners' corporations of the repairs and demolition works required under a pilot Coordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme. Where necessary, joint enforcement action would be taken. In 2001, we identified 150 buildings, mainly located in old urban districts, as our target buildings. Building repairs and improvement works have already been launched in 124 out of the 150 target buildings.

 

As many of the problems we face in our living environment relate to building design, we announced in October 2000 our plan to promote the construction of environmentally friendly buildings and promulgated in February 2001 the first Joint Practice Notes to promote the construction of green features by exempting such features from the calculation of gross floor area and site coverage. So far, 78 building plans with environmentally friendly features have been approved. By encouraging the construction of more environmentally friendly buildings, we seek to further improve the living environment in Hong Kong.

 

Rural Development in the New Territories

 

As regards developments in the New Territories villages, eligible indigenous villagers in the New Territories can apply for the construction of small houses for their own use under the Small House Policy. Over the years, many small houses have been built in "Village" zones in a sporadic manner. This has posed site constraints to the provision of facilities in improving the living environment in the villages.

 

To help improve the situation, the Lands Department has proposed a "Village Layout Plan Scheme" for implementation in the indigenous villages. The Administration is consulting the Heung Yee Kuk and the Rural Committees on this proposal. Should the Scheme be accepted by the parties concerned, the Lands Department will work with the villagers in drawing up village layout plans. These plans will enable small house developments to proceed in a co-ordinated manner for proper planning of village facilities.

 

In addition, the Government has improved the planning and land use in the rural New Territories through a range of measures, including the formulation of Outline Zoning Plans, taking enforcement action against unauthorised developments, clearance of illegal occupation on Government land and the implementation of environmental improvement works. The Task Force (Black Spots) under the Lands Department has improved and cleaned up over 1 700 environmental black spots since its establishment in 1994. The Central Enforcement and Prosecution Section of the Planning Department has stopped over 1 500 unauthorised developments since its establishment in 1994. The Home Affairs Department also implements a Rural Public Works Programme of small to medium scale projects to upgrade the infrastructure in the rural districts. All these measures are aimed at improving the living environment in the rural areas.

 

In the long run, we hope to achieve optimum utilisation of our valuable land resources and to meet the needs of the community through our current review of the Small House Policy. The review involves a number of complex and inter-related issues which we are now handling carefully. Upon the completion of the review, we will announce the proposals and consult the public. We are also planning to embark on a comprehensive review on land use in the New Territories with a view to identifying long-term solutions to problems associated with land use planning and management in the New Territories. In this connection, the Planning Department will shortly commission a consultant to conduct a study on the subject.

 

Conclusion

 

Since the 1999 Policy Address, the Government has made good progress in implementing various measures on urban renewal, beautification of the Victoria Harbour, promotion of building maintenance and environmentally friendly buildings, and improving the living environment in the rural New Territories. Besides continuing our current effort, we will draw up new initiatives as appropriate to meet changing circumstances for continuous improvement of our living environment.

 

End/Wednesday, January 30, 2002

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