Speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen at the 2003 Annual Dinner organised by the Joint Structural Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers (English only)

Following is a speech (English only) by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen at the 2003 Annual Dinner organised by the Joint Structural Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers tonight (November 21):

Chairman (Ir Helen Kwan), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening. It is an honour and privilege for me to be the Guest of Honour at your Annual Dinner this evening and to address such a distinguished group of top class professional engineers in Hong Kong.

Challenges and Opportunities for Engineers

Over the years, Hong Kong has been renowned for her vigor in infrastructure and property development. This has contributed to the rapid economic growth of the territory. This has also provided an excellent opportunity to nurture a large number of high calibre engineers in Hong Kong. Various local landmarks testify our many achievements. Recent examples include the Tsing Ma Bridge, the Chek Lap Kok New Airport, and the International Finance Centre Tower 2. They are numbered amongst the longest, biggest and tallest of their kinds in the world.

Hong Kong has faced a rather painful restructuring process in the last few years. This has in turn reduced the volume of construction activities and hence career development opportunities for engineers. On top of that, globalisation has been moving jobs from developed economies to developing economies. Like other industries, the challenges facing engineers are unprecedented.

On the other hand, China joined the WTO in 2001 and has maintained a sustained growth. The signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) with the Mainland authorities in June this year has provided a platform for Hong Kong to tap into the Mainland's vast economy and market. Under CEPA, market access to the Mainland for Hong Kong engineering consultancies and contractors is significantly relaxed. We are allowed to acquire 100% Mainland engineering consulting and construction enterprises. Our engineering consultancies are permitted to set up wholly-owned enterprises in the Mainland. There are also clear routes for our contracting firms to acquire the necessary quality certification and be permitted to bid for construction projects in the Mainland.

The sum total of all these changes defines a new era, which call for engineers to reposition themselves. But before we do, we must first ask ourselves what are our strengths? I believe our engineers have excellent international experience and exposure. Our engineers are world class experts in project management of large-scale multi-disciplinary construction projects. Our engineers are also experts in project financing, construction technology, dispute resolution and quality management. We have built up efficient and effective networks with most international consultants, contractors, researchers, academic institutions and suppliers. The cultural affinity and the Hong Kong 'can do' spirit will also give our engineers additional competitive edges. I have no doubt that our engineers can, or already have, established a high level of reputation in the Mainland and equally in other parts of the world.

Then, perhaps we would ask what could we do in order to take the full advantage of the opportunities? Our perspective should be changed. With closer ties with the Pearl River Delta, the Mainland and the Asian Pacific countries and with increasing pace of globalisation, engineers, like many other professionals in Hong Kong, will need to re-think and see how they can meet the various challenges. Their education, training and career development have to be strengthened in order to meet the new requirements. Their scope of service also needs to be widened. Indeed, I would see it as a necessary continuous process in a changing world. I am confident that with the assistance of your Institutions, our engineers would be able to rise to the challenges and to capitalize on the opportunities ahead.

Challenges for Reclamation

Next, I wish to talk about the challenges we encounter recently in harbour reclamation. The world is fast changing and Hong Kong is no exception. Over the years, due largely to the entrepreneurial spirit of our community, we have grown into an international metropolis. To meet the need for economic development, housing and transportation, considerable reclamation works have been carried out on both sides of Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong would never become the World City of Asia as it is today, without reclamation. The Tsing Ma Bridge, IFC Tower 2, and our new airport are either landed or built on reclaimed land. Reclamation is what Hong Kong is all about. Undeniably, this has allowed Hong Kong to develop but it has taken place at the cost of altering the harbour which we have always treasured. Until very recently, this trade-off had never been a major bone of contention.

Let me say this at the outset. I love the Harbour. At my much younger days our home enjoyed a full view of the Harbour and, personally, like most of you, I believe now is the time to draw a firm line to put an end to reclamations in the Harbour.

For now, let me put in perspective the background for the recent controversies on harbour reclamation. The case for the final stages of reclamation in Central and Wan Chai was addressed in the "Study on Harbour Reclamations and Urban Growth" back in 1983. This was refined by other major planning development studies, including the "Port and Airport Development Strategy" in 1989. The overall planning for these works concluded that a final reclamation along the northern shores of the Hong Kong Island is required to support an additional underground railway line to relieve pressure on the existing Island Line, a highway link to provide a bypass for through traffic and new piers along the new waterfront.

Reclamation work was planned for implementation in five phases over a long period of time. Work first started in the early 1990s. Three out of the five phases have now been completed. Wan Chai Reclamation Phase I, for the extension to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, was completed in July 1997. This was followed by Central Reclamation Phase II, at the previous Tamar Basin, which was completed in September 1997. Central Reclamation Phase I, for accommodating the Hong Kong Station of the Airport Railway and IFC Tower 2, was completed in June 1998. We are now talking about two more inseparable and consequential reclamation projects in Central and Wanchai North, whereupon the full programme will be completed and there will be no more reclamation along the northern shores of Hong Kong Island.

On the other side of the Harbour, the removal of the Kai Tak Airport to Chek Lap Kok has necessitated the re-planning of Southeast Kowloon. We are currently reviewing the project to see if any reclamation is needed to fill in the Kai Tak Nullah. Apart from the projects just mentioned, there will be no more reclamation in the Harbour. We do not need any more.

These three projects - two in Central-Wanchai and one in Southeast Kowloon - represent the sum total of planned reclamation works within the harbour limits. In order to further allay the concerns of the public, we will ensure that our policy is reflected in the town plans that have a bearing on the harbour to ensure that there will be no more encroachment on the harbour areas.

Vision for the Harbour

Over the years, we have seen high-rise buildings and roads built right up to the seafront and the public have been denied easy access to the harbour. It is an impediment to developing our harbour shoreline into a beautiful world-class waterfront. Our vision is to make Victoria Harbour attractive, vibrant, accessible and symbolic of Hong Kong. We want it to be a harbour for the people and a harbour of life. Our intention is to start off at Central embracing both sides of the Harbour. We intend to provide corridors gaining access to the waterfront and water front promenades for enjoyment of the public as well as the tourists.

Our planning objective is to ensure that the Victoria Harbour will be protected and enhanced for people to enjoy. We have devised urban design guidelines aimed at creating a better environment through better landscaping and greening, provision of open space and view corridors, and stepped building heights to protect the ridgeline on both sides of the harbour. These are some of the issues which will be covered in the public consultation of the coming Hong Kong 2030 Study.

Hong Kong 2030 Study

Next week, we will launch the Stage III consultation of the Hong Kong 2030 Study. I will also make use of that occasion to reiterate our commitment to protect the harbour. In particular, we will emphasize that we have decided to shelve the reclamation plans in Tsuen Wan Bay, Sham Tseng and Western District. I will of course repeat the message that no further reclamations will be carried out in Victoria Harbour except for Central and Wanchai reclamation and South East Kowloon Development, just as I have told you a moment ago.

In the context of the Hong Kong 2030 Study, we will also consult the public on a number of other key issues which will have an impact on the long-term development of Hong Kong. For example, the location of future port facilities, the development potential of the Frontier Closed Area, the scope for reducing development density, and the development in the urban area vis-a-vis new towns in the New Territories to accommodate future population growth. There will be a lot of business opportunities for the engineering fraternity. I am sure that you will all seize the occasion to put forward ideas which will be brought into reality in time to come, through consensus building between the Government, the community and the professions concerned.

Thank you.

Ends/Friday, November 21, 2003