Statement on Central Reclamation Phase III



Following is a statement issued by the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau today (September 20) on Central Reclamation Phase III (CRIII):


"The Government fully recognizes the importance of protecting the harbour, and believes that the need for reclamation should be minimized. The road works and the reclamation works under the Central Reclamation Phase III (CRIII) were authorized by the Chief Executive in Council on December 18, 2001.


When considering the design on CRIII, the Government has given proper and genuine regard to the requirement against reclamation set out in the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance (PHO). Therefore, the current works are in line with the legal requirements. After conducting an extensive public consultation, the Government has decided to adopt the minimum reclamation option. The area of reclamation has been scaled back from the originally proposed 32 hectares to 18 hectares. The decision-making process is in accordance with the law.


The works contract was awarded on February 10, 2003 and works are in progress already.


On July 8, 2003, the High Court handed down its judgment on the "Society for Protection of the Harbour Limited v. Town Planning Board" case. The Court did not hold that there could be no reclamation of the Harbour in future. The Court only held that the Harbour Park and promenade under the Wan Chai Reclamation plan did not comply with the three tests. According to the judgment, the presumption against reclamation as set out in PHO can only be rebutted when a reclamation scheme passes the three tests of "compelling, overriding and present need", "no viable alternative", and "minimum impairment to the Harbour". The Court ordered the Town Planning Board (TPB) to review its decisions in accordance with the three tests for the purpose of the road works in North Wan Chai.


On July 19, TPB decided not to pursue the Harbour Park proposal. However, TPB is of the view that it is necessary to appeal against the legal principles regarding the interpretation of PHO.


While the Court has not directed or ordered the reviews of the other reclamation projects, we, as a responsible government, have decided to review all projects within the Harbour that involve reclamation schemes. Our policy is to carry out minimum reclamation when we see such a need. In the process of review, we will re-evaluate Hong Kong's long-term development and its requirement on reclamation. We will also take into account the general public's request for minimizing reclamation.


Specifically, the Director of Territory Development, in consultation with his consultants, the Transport Department and the Highways Department, has initiated a review of CRIII to ascertain if the project can meet the three tests laid down in the High Court judgment. The review will be completed next week. As the Government has ensured that CRIII meets the tests of the High Court, the reclamation works currently underway are lawful.


Compelling, overriding and present need


CRIII will provide land for construction of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass (CWB) and surface roads connecting Central Reclamation Phases I and II. There is a compelling, overriding and present need to build the road projects in order to bring urgent relief to the traffic congestion in Central. The traffic problem in Central will deteriorate if the roads are not ready in time to meet the needs arising from occupancy of the new buildings in Central's waterfront area.


There is general consensus among members of the community that the road projects are essential and urgently required. The Society for Protection of the Harbour Limited itself also shares this view.


No viable alternative


Central is now full of buildings. There is already an underground tunnel for the MTR Island Line and other infrastructure facilities. It is therefore not possible to build CWB on existing land. We have no choice but to build CWB beyond the current Central shoreline through reclamation.


Minimum impairment to the Harbour


We have kept impairment to the Harbour to the minimum. The shoreline will move slightly northward as a result of the construction of CWB. The Star Ferry piers, Queen's Pier, various public landing steps and the groups of cooling water pumping stations serving major office and commercial buildings in Central have to be reprovisioned along the future Central shoreline. After extensive discussion and consultation with the owners of the pumping stations, we come up with the current configuration which is acceptable to all parties concerned and which would cause minimum impairment to the Harbour.


Other considerations


Suspension of the CRIII now will cause serious disruption to the engineering works resulting in delays in the delivery of the road projects. The Government is likely to be accused of breaching the works contract and be liable to very substantial penalty payments as a result. This is definitely an unnecessary waste of public funds.


In conclusion, we believe that it is in the public interest to continue with the CRIII works. The Government would be acting against the public interests if we stop the CRIII works now."


End/Saturday, September 20, 2003