Following is a speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, at the Joint Meeting of the Legislative Council's Panel on Environmental Affairs and Panel on Planning, Lands and Works today (October 13):
President, Honourable Members,
There has been on-going debate on the harbour reclamation works recently. Diverse views have been expressed in the community not only on the legality and scope of the Central Reclamation, but also on the protection of Victoria Harbour. Today, I want to take this opportunity to explain to this Council the views of the Government on the issue which we need to face and address together.
To begin with, I would like to highlight two underlying principles of government practices. First, Hong Kong society upholds the rule of law. The Government acts in accordance with the law and respects the ruling of the court. On the protection of Victoria Harbour, I hope you can appreciate that the whole decision-making process pertaining to Phase 3 of the Central Reclamation has gone through detailed discussion and extensive consultation, and has been conducted in compliance with the statutory procedure under the town planning legislation, and subsequently the reclamation works have obtained funding approval from this Council.
Second, I totally agree that it is important to protect Victoria Harbour, which is an invaluable natural asset of the people of Hong Kong, including the Chief Executive, the government, and you and me. I also accept that it is the undisputed responsibility of the Government to protect the harbour and to abide by the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance. We need to preserve the harbour for our future generations. As for reclamation works in Hong Kong, we share the view of the public that it is not desirable to make the harbour narrower and narrower by reclamation. The present reclamation works in Central are actually the remaining portion of the overall Central-Wan Chai reclamation programme which started in the 1990s. There is indeed an urgent need to provide land for constructing a new trunk road, that is, the Central-Wan Chai bypass, and other related road systems to solve the serious congestion problem on the north side of Hong Kong Island, especially the business hub of Central. I believe that many of the Honourable Councillors here have long suffered from the traffic jams. It is on this major premise that the Government undertakes the works.
Apart from the reclamation works in Central, we are now reviewing the proposed reclamation works to be carried out in Wan Chai North. The development of southeast Kowloon on the other side of the harbour has also to be reconsidered as the Kai Tak Airport is no longer in use.
It has been reported that the Government intends to carry out reclamation works at Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon Point, Tsuen Wan Bay and Green Island. In the past, relevant government departments did carry out feasibility studies on these proposals. The Government, however, decided a few years ago to scrap the reclamation proposals for Tsim Sha Tsui East and Kowloon Point. Furthermore, with a continuing decline in our population growth in recent years, the overall housing demand is also decreasing. The Government has, therefore, recently reviewed our long-term planning and development. Following a thorough assessment of the latest developments in the supply and demand of land, we have decided not to proceed with the other reclamation proposals for Tsuen Wan Bay and Green Island, and the Government will soon submit the proposed planning amendments to the Town Planning Board for consideration and gazetting. Therefore, I would like to state the Government's position today in the Legislative Council Chamber that apart from Central, Wan Chai North and southeast Kowloon, the Government has no plan to carry out further reclamation works in the harbour.
In the October 6 High Court ruling, the judge considers that after having balanced the overall public interests, the works of Central Reclamation Phase 3 should continue. As a responsible Government, we do not lay eyes just on the legal aspect, but also on the needs and demands of various strata. As it is our duty to maintain a balance of public interests, we must act in a legitimate, fair and reasonable manner. At this stage, therefore, we have only resumed certain advance reclamation works, such as mud dredging and the filling-back with rock-fill, on a restricted scale. Piling works have been temporarily suspended. The judge has also accepted that the works will not cause irreparable damage to the harbour. Moreover, the Government has already conducted an environmental impact assessment on the works, and it has been found that the ecological environment will not be harmed. We hope that with the support of Members, a consensus can be reached in the near future so that the works can be resumed smoothly.
Ends/Monday, October 13, 2003