Speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau, Mr Michael Suen, at the EnviroSeries Conference 2004 - Designing Hong Kong Harbour District


Following is the speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau, Mr Michael Suen, at the EnviroSeries Conference 2004 - Designing Hong Kong Harbour District today (May 3).



Mr Long, Mr Zimmerman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:


Good morning. It is a great honour for me to join you today at the annual "EnviroSeries" Conference for 2004, which has been organised by the Business Environment Council. It is an important and timely gathering that brings together business leaders, professionals, government officials and NGO representatives from Hong Kong and overseas. Our aims are to exchange ideas, share knowledge and pool invaluable experience from around the world on ways to enliven metropolitan harbour-front areas.


The focus of this conference is "Designing Hong Kong Harbour District". Obviously, this subject has attracted huge interest in the Hong Kong community. It has also sparked intense debate in recent months. I am thankful to the council for inviting me to speak here today, so that I may reiterate the commitment of the Hong Kong Government to protecting and enhancing Victoria Harbour, as well as the efforts we have made, and will continue to make, in this direction.


A Commitment to Protecting the Harbour


Our harbour is an irreplaceable natural asset. It has played a crucial role in Hong Kong's growth and prosperity in the past 150 years or more. In fact, our harbour gave birth to Hong Kong. When its advantages as a natural haven for shipping became known, it stimulated the development of the city into a leading international commercial hub; thus laying the foundations for its evolution as Asia's world city.


Today, it still plays an enormously valuable part in Hong Kong's economic life. Every year, millions of visitors pour into Hong Kong from around the globe to admire its grandeur. Many of them have compared the vistas of Hong Kong and its harbour with other world-renowned waterfront cities, including Sydney, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town.


But, to us citizens of Hong Kong, our harbour also has a special significance. It is a symbol of our city and our way of life. One of the earliest memories I had as a child, watching all the fascinating activities taking place on its waters, as well as along the waterfront, and feeling enthralled by its magic. I am sure many of you here today have similar memories too. Our harbour is something we all cherish. We enjoy looking at it and being close to it when we are here; and something we remember and dream about when we find ourselves far away from home.


It is therefore only natural that people from all walks of life feel very protective about our harbour. This concern has become stronger and stronger in recent years; hand-in-hand with increased general awareness about the need to safeguard our natural environment and plan for the future of our city in line with the principles of sustainable development.


It cannot be denied that Hong Kong is forever growing. Indeed, if it did not continue to grow, it would stagnate and decay, and that would be to the detriment of all of us. One of our great challenges is to find ways to cope with growth in a sustainable manner, and within a very limited land area. We must accommodate an ever-increasing population, as well as the infrastructure we need to ensure a healthy, comfortable and convenient living environment.


Reclamation has always been a key method we have used to create the land resources to meet our social, economic and environmental needs. Besides homes and commercial buildings, reclamation has made possible many of the public facilities and amenities that add a lot to our lives.


If you look along the northern shoreline of Hong Kong Island, you will see the Legislative Council Building and public gardens in Central, the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai, and Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. Across the harbour, we have the Cultural Centre and the adjacent museum complex in Tsim Sha Tsui. All these have been built on reclaimed land. Further afield, the same is true of the Hong Kong International Airport and the Container Port, both of which are vital components of our economic life.


Of course, our harbour has a finite area. We cannot keep on reclaiming it forever. Over the years, we have recognised this fact more and more strongly. We have also realised the importance of a prudent balance between growth and conservation. On the one hand, we aim to pursue carefully planned growth in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, to make our city a better place to live in. On the other hand, we seek to preserve and further enhance Hong Kong's natural environment and heritage, of which our harbour is the most prominent example.


We also acknowledge the need to return our harbour to the people - to give both citizens and visitors the unfettered access they need to enjoy its beauty to the full. In this respect, all of us agree that there are still currently many shortcomings in terms of limited accessibility to the harbour, and the waterfront amenities on the shoreline of Hong Kong Island.


The Government's Pledge


The government has carefully considered how we can achieve a balance between conserving our harbour and developing it in a way that opens it up to the community. We have begun implementing a series of programmes that demonstrate our commitment to protecting our harbour - our reclamation plans at Kowloon Point, Tsim Sha Tsui, Tsuen Wan Bay and Green Island have all been dropped completely. What little that remain have been substantially modified. The extent of the Central Reclamation Phase III has been reduced from the original planned 32 hectares to 18.


The events of the past six months did not negate our commitment to the harbour in any way. In fact, they have created an even greater recognition of its importance; and they have given us the benefit of a final and authoritative interpretation of the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance. They also re-affirmed our harbour's special status as a unique public asset, and a part of the natural heritage of Hong Kong and its people. They have focused everyone's minds more firmly on the need to protect our Harbour. From now on any reclamation proposal will have to pass the "overriding public need test", and it must be demonstrated that there are no reasonable alternatives to reclamation.


In addition, we recognise the importance of explaining our proposals to the public, and gauging their views. This has to be an ongoing process that starts at the early planning stages, then continues through various other key stages of the feasibility studies, and up to the point where the final decisions are made.


An End to Reclamation


Looking ahead, the government has made a public pledge that - apart from the current Central Reclamation, the proposed Wan Chai North Development and Southeast Kowloon Development - there will be no further reclamation within the harbour in the future.


The Central Reclamation and Wan Chai North Development are the final phases of an integrated programme that was originally initiated in the 1980s. Apart from providing the much needed relief for traffic congestion, this programme has the added objectives of protecting and enhancing our Harbour and opening it up for people to enjoy; thus maximising its benefits to the community and making it a waterfront worthy of Hong Kong's status as Asia's world city.


In this respect, our overall goals for enhancement are to make the waterfront:


* First, SYMBOLIC - a reflection of Hong Kong's unique identity;


* Second, ATTRACTIVE - incorporating carefully planned greenery and landscaping that creates an aesthetically pleasing result from every perspective;


* Third, ACCESSIBLE - designed to encourage visitors by giving them easy access; and


* Fourth, VIBRANT - offering amenities and activities to draw people from all walks of life by catering to their varied interests and tastes.


When the two remaining reclamation phases are completed, they will also provide much-needed underground infrastructure facilities to meet our growing road and rail transportation needs.


Moreover, the completion of the Central Reclamation will provide us with:


* First, a continuous, crescent-shaped promenade running from the Convention and Exhibition Centre to the IFC, where people can enjoy spectacular views of the Harbour and skyline;


* Second, landscaping and public gardens that offer a sanctuary from the bustling city streets, and a venue for open-air performances and festive celebrations;


* Third, leisure, tourism and related retail facilities; and


* Fourth, a place where exhibition vessels and small tourist craft will be able to berth.


As for the Wan Chai North project, in the light of the Court of Final Appeal's judgment, we embarked on an integrated planning and engineering feasibility study in March this year. In a couple of months' time, we plan to consult the public on the scope of the study as well as the broad concepts relating to land use. The views we receive will form the basis for developing more detailed land-use plans.


Turning to Southeast Kowloon, since the 1990's, the government has initiated feasibility studies to examine optimal land uses and development intensity at the site of the former Airport. In view of the "overriding public need test" requirement, we are prepared to once again review appropriate land uses for this valuable piece of land, starting with a "no reclamation" basis.


In considering these remaining harbour development proposals, we are committed to engaging the community in a proactive way during the early stages of the review, and also throughout its entire process. The new Harbour-front Enhancement Committee, which I will talk about in more detail in a moment, will play a key role in this process.


The Harbour-front Enhancement Committee


In the past few months, many people in our community have expressed their concerns about further reclamation. We recognise their sincerity, and we appreciate their contributions. In the past, we have given a lot of consideration to their valuable input. At the same time, we have aimed to correct misapprehensions and misunderstandings about what we plan to do.


Now, we are engaged in deepening this dialogue between the government and the community. We want to put past acrimony behind us and move forward in addressing the concerns that have been raised. As far as possible, we hope to achieve a consensus about the harbour's future with all the other stakeholders concerned - both individuals and organisations. In this way, we seek a common vision for enhancing our Harbour.


In this context, I am very pleased that we have successfully established the Harbour-front Enhancement Committee. Its chairman and members have been appointed, and it will hold its first meeting in just a few days' time, on May 6. It is particularly gratifying that concern groups, such as the Society for Protection of the Harbour, have agreed to participate in the committee and put their views forward in this forum.


The government will give its full backing to the committee, and we will take careful note of its discussions and recommendations. Its meetings will be open to the public, so I do urge all of you to participate, and to encourage other interested parties to do likewise. I look forward to the committee playing a key role in the reviews that we are undertaking, and in coming up with innovative ideas on how to deliver "quick-win" harbour-front improvement projects in a sustainable manner.


I am confident that, through the joint efforts of the government and the community, the remaining harbour development projects will help to make Hong Kong a much more pleasant city to live in and visit. They will give us a waterfront we can be more proud of than ever; one that is on par with such acclaimed locations as Darling Harbour in Sydney, Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, and the Embankment in London. Our harbour will once again be a place where local people and visitors can stroll, relax, and draw inspiration from the awe-inspiring views that make Hong Kong such a unique city.


Thank you.


Ends/Monday, May 3, 2004