Following is a speech on "Sustainability Development in Hong Kong" delivered by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, at the 10th Annual Dinner of the Geotechnical Division of Institution of Engineers tonight (March 26):
Chairman (Ir. Mak), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Good evening. It is my great pleasure to address such a distinguished group of professional engineers from both the private and public sectors. I wish to extend my warmest congratulations to the Geotechnical Division of the Institution of Engineers for holding its 10th Annual Dinner. Tonight, I would like to share with you our experience in sustainable development in various spheres of work under my portfolio.
Sustainable development in Hong Kong
Hong Kong, more than any other cities in the world, has had to face the challenge of meeting the needs of a vibrant and thriving society from its very scarce land resources. We provide housing and related community facilities for a large population. We build transport infrastructure to cater for a highly mobile population. We need more and more space for our growing business and commercial activities. What all these mean is that we have to make tough decisions on how to balance the quest for more land to promote growth and development with the desire to achieve a better quality of life for our citizens. To this end, the Government has made sustainable development an underlying theme and a cardinal principle in the formulation of all our public programmes and policies, accepting at the same time, the economic, social and environmental implications in taking forward such a policy.
Talking about sustainable development of Hong Kong, the natural focus falls on the question of reclamation in the Harbour. Public debates over this issue have lasted for more than half a year. We now have a final and conclusive interpretation of the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance given by the Court of Final Appeal. In full recognition of the Harbour as a special public asset and a natural heritage of the people of Hong Kong to be protected and preserved, the Government has painstakingly repeated its pledge that apart from the remaining phases of the Central and Wan Chai reclamation and the Southeast Kowloon proposal, there will be no more reclamation within the Harbour. The Central Reclamation is covered by an approved outline zoning plan. The status of the outline zoning plans for Wanchai and Southeast Kowloon is different in that they are only draft plans. It is for this reason that we have readily agreed to put these two draft plans back to the drawing board by asking the Town Planning Board to review them to make sure that the new plans which are drawn up will comply in full with the "over-riding public needs" test imposed by the Court of Final Appeal.
As all of you are well aware, reclamation projects on the northern shores of Hong Kong Island have a long planning horizon. The present reclamation works in Central are intended as one of the last two phases of the Central-Wanchai reclamation programme, the planning of which was started in the eighties, with the first stages of works commencing in the nineties. The reclamations provide essential transport infrastructure to relieve traffic congestion on the northern shore of Hong Kong island, particularly in Central and Wan Chai. The benefits of the Bypass go beyond just another road to meet the future traffic growth. It completes what we regard as "a missing link" in Hong Kong's strategic transport network and diverts through traffic from the congested Connaught Road Central/Harcourt Road/Gloucester Road Corridor thereby releasing space for improved district traffic and pedestrian accessibility. Built largely underground from land formed, it provides an excellent opportunity for a traffic free waterfront with supporting facilities for public enjoyment.
Balancing competing needs and demands is always a dedicate task. It is impossible to please every member of the community. However, I hope that the majority of the people of Hong Kong will appreciate that the scale of reclamation in Central has been substantially reduced after very thorough and extensive public consultations by the Town Planning Board, the relevant District Councils and the Legislative Council. The Executive Council approved the plan in 2000 and the Legislative Council gave funding approval in 2002.
We are all justly proud of our fine tradition of upholding the rule of law in Hong Kong. This includes the right of appeal to a higher court by a losing litigant. The Society for the Protection of the Harbour has announced earlier today its decision of appealing on an important point of law. The Society has also called on the Government to stop all reclamation works in Central pending a judgment. The way I look at this is that the point of law under contention has little to do with the reclamation works. This point has already been conclusively settled by now in the light of two decisions by the High Court in favour of the Government in relation to the reclamation works in Central. In his judgment, Judge Hartmann emphasized that in the case of the Central reclamation time has passed and it has long been recognized that in planning matters time is invariably of importance and indeed good administration, far from surrendering to delay, should seek to avoid it. He went on to say that the executive cannot always bow to the pressure of threatened litigation and it is always a question of policy whether an approved plan should be fulfilled without delay or whether delay is prudent. On top of this, there are also other considerations such as the urgency of the works involved, the public interest and third party rights to take into account. Against this background, the Government considers, as a matter of good administration, the reclamation works should proceed without further delay. I expect that this will be greeted with approval from those who have been deeply troubled and daily inconvenienced by the worsening traffic congestions in Central and Wan Chai.
The coming challenge facing us lies with the planning and development of the waterfront. The public has expressed in clear and loud terms their aspirations for the Harbour and seeks active participation in the process of turning their aspiration into reality. To this end, the Government has announced the setting up of an Advisory Committee on Enhancement of the Harbour-front intended to have a broad-based representation. Its mandate is, among other things, to advise on the planning, land use, design and development issues relating to the existing and new harbour-front. We will shortly announce its membership and expect the first meeting to be held before May.
Environmental Sustainability in Public Housing
Next, I would like to share with you the efforts of the Hong Kong Housing Authority in promoting sustainable development in public housing. Green construction has been put into practice. Instead of maximizing plot ratio, we are beginning to promote healthy living in our public housing estates, with a view to optimizing development density and giving better disposition of building blocks for better environmental benefits.
While most public housing estates are built upon slopes or in close vicinity to hilly terrain for one reason or another, these sites have provided excellent opportunities for engineers, architects, planners and landscape architects to work together. Ingenuity is at work. We endeavour to incorporate these slopes into the overall estate design and turn them into communal space that can be enjoyed by the residents. Our engineers have indeed experimented innovative geotechnical and civil engineering technologies with success. Today, we manage about 2 000 slopes in our public housing estates over the territory. While safety is the first and primary consideration in carrying out slope improvement works in housing estates, we endeavour to retain the existing features and keep native trees intact. We will also plant vegetations to enhance and soften the visual impact of the slopes.
I would like to quote two examples of imaginative slope works within housing estates, one in Sau Mau Ping Estate in Kowloon East, and the other one at Ma Hang Estate in Stanley. You may recall a tragic landslide in Sau Mau Ping Estate back in 1976 after the heavy rainfall that claimed 18 lives. In redeveloping the estate and treating the adjacent slopes, one of the major tasks of the Geotechnical Engineers was to address the potential hazard, and turn that slope into a friendly and functional space for the community to enjoy. The slope works in Ma Hang illustrate how we integrate natural landscaping with the tranquil setting of the Ma Hang Village. I would suggest you take a look at these slopes through the eyes of a professional with history in mind when you visit them next time.
Public housing development has anchored in Hong Kong for half a century. Some older estates were primitive non-self contained dwellings. Since the Comprehensive Redevelopment Programme in 1988, we have cleared some 500 blocks built before 1972, and replaced them by modern designs and amenities.
However, a large-scale public housing redevelopment programme inevitably exerts a heavy drain on land, manpower and financial resources. Moreover, in the context of sustainability, comprehensive redevelopment is not the only solution. This perhaps gives us an opportune time to consider rehabilitation instead of redevelopment. Indeed, rehabilitating older buildings is quite common in the international context and is definitely more environmentally friendly. Our latest building technologies have already taken into account sustainability in design and construction, and that is why our buildings these days are more durable and flexible to meet our tenants' needs as compared with what we built in the early days. Our main objective of rehabilitation is to extend the life span of the older public rental estates for another 25 years or more through improvement works done in a cost effective manner. We will explore various possible approaches and consider their social, economic and environmental implications before drawing up our rehabilitation strategy.
We recognize that no one society has a definitive solution for implementing sustainable development. We must tailor our strategies and policies to local conditions and circumstances. The community, the business sector and the Government are stakeholders as much as they are partners in the protection and improvement of our environment. It is incumbent upon all parties to take up this responsibility to collaborate fully, working together with commitment to Hong Kong !D a place where we and our children build our sustainable home.
Ends/Friday, March 26, 2004