Harbour planning to be reviewed with full public participation

The Government will engage the whole community in a comprehensive review of the planning and development of Hong Kong's harbourfront area, the Director of Planning, Bosco Fung said today (March 16).

Addressing the Designing Hong Kong Harbour District Stakeholders lunch meeting, Mr Fung said the review would produce a new integrated plan for harbour protection as well as enhancement, creating opportunities for better access, higher visual quality and a livelier harbourfront for the enjoyment of local people and visitors.

With all the court cases on harbour reclamation behind us and the legal principles on harbour reclamation clearly defined, Mr Fung said it was time to heal and move on, turning a new chapter in habour planning.

"It is time to build community consensus on how we should enhance and make the best out of what we all regard as one of the most precious public assets of Hong Kong," he said.

Explaining the preliminary idea of the comprehensive review, Mr Fung said it would comprise three major components, with full community participation in each facet.

The first component of the review, he said, would involve re-examining the harbour planning principles and the overall planning framework that were previously established in the Harbour Plan Study that was completed in early 2003 before all the legal proceedings relating to harbour reclamation had been instituted.

After considering community feedback on the harbour planning principles and framework, the Government would then consider ways to enhance the existing harbourfront areas and review plans for the new reclamation areas, which would form the review's second and third components.

"The second component can focus on new long-term opportunities and appropriate new land uses for our existing habourfront areas, as well as opportunities for immediate action to enhance public enjoyment of these areas," Mr Fung said.

"As for the third component, that is, the new reclamation projects, I wish to reiterate the now oft-stated Government statement that apart from Central Reclamation Phase III, Wan Chai North and Southeast Kowloon, there will be no more reclamation in the harbour in future."

"For Wan Chai North and Southeast Kowloon, we will soon be starting further studies to ensure that any new reclamation, if proposed, will be in full compliance with the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance based on the 'overriding public need test'."

Mr Fung pledged that the public would be consulted at an early stage when conceptual ideas were formed, adding that open discussion forums with all stakeholder groups would be organised.

The Harbourfront Enhancement Advisory Committee announced by the Government last week, which will comprise members of different community interest groups, will also provide an important forum to discuss harbourfront planning and development issues.

Looking back on the reclamation saga, Mr Fung reiterated that the Government shared the same aspirations as the community to preserve and protect Victoria Harbour, which is regarded as a special public asset and a part of Hong Kong's natural heritage.

He said that following the enactment of the Protection of Harbour Ordinance in 1997, the Government took the initiative to amend the ordinance to extend its coverage from the Central Harbour to include the whole of Victoria Harbour in 1999.

In recognition of the spirit of the ordinance and rising public aspirations, the Town Planning Board also set out in October 1999 a vision statement for Victoria Harbour, pledging to make it attractive, vibrant, accessible and a symbol of Hong Kong, so that it would be a harbour for the people and a harbour of life.

Mr Fung explained that after reviewing the seven harbour reclamation projects, which dated back to the 1980s, the Government had decided to proceed with only the plans for Central, Wan Chai and Southeast Kowloon, all of which underwent active public consultation and were significantly amended after the Town Planning Board had heard the public's objections and representations.

The reclamation size of South East Kowloon Development was reduced from about 300 to 130 hectares. Similarly, the reclamation for the Central (Extension) Outline Zoning Plan was reduced from 38ha to 23ha, and that for Wan Chai, from 45 to 28ha.

Apart from the statutory planning process, the Planning Department also consulted the public on harbour planning through the Harbour Plan Study, launched in late 1999 and completed in early 2003.

Drawing lessons from the rapid changes in community views and aspirations about Victoria Harbour, Mr Fung said the public consultation process in the future would be more forward-looking and proactive.

"To realise our goal of returning the harbour to the people, we must step up dialogue with the people and establish partnership with all the stakeholders," he said.

"We must engage the whole community in a frank, open and rewarding dialogue, and try to encourage balanced discussion rather than emotive exchanges."

Ends/Tuesday, March 16, 2004