Speech by Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands on Legco motion on "Fully Conserving the Government Hill"

The following is a translation of the speech made by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in response to the motion moved by the Honourable Fred Li on "Fully Conserving the Government Hill" in the Legislative Council today (July 5):

Madam President,

Let me thank Hon Fred LI for today's motion. Application for funds to build the new Government Secretariat at Tamar was supported and approved about a fortnight ago by Members. We are now making preparations for invitation of tender for the Tamar Project. According to schedule, the new Government Secretariat building will be completed in 2010. We are still a few years from relocation of the Government Secretariat. At present, the Government has not yet decided on the future use of the current Government Secretariat site following relocation to the new Government Secretariat building at Tamar.

Hon Fred Li's motion asks for conservation of the existing Government Secretariat building cluster, whereas the Amendment by Hon Alan LEONG asks for the land use of Government Hill to be changed and rezoned cultural heritage area. I wish first to talk about the history of the Government Secretariat and the factors for consideration as well as the procedures required in determining land use.

The Government Secretariat, located in Lower Albert Road, was built between 1954 and 1959. It has not been declared statutory monument or historical building up to now. In the Central Outline Zoning Plan, the Government Secretariat building cluster falls within a GIC zone. As of now, the Government has not taken a view on the conservation or otherwise of the building cluster and the use of the lot where it stands following the relocation of the Government Secretariat. It is too early to decide now.

As with land use planning for any site, we need to carry out timely planning studies in accordance with the spirit and requirements of the Town Planning Ordinance. In undertaking planning studies and determining land use, we will not only adhere fully to the principle of sustainable development, but also take into account established land policy. We will seek to safeguard and strive for the greatest public interest and consider what use is most appropriate and suits best the needs of Hong Kong as a whole. The compatibility of urban design with the landscape, the traffic and transport aspects and environmental quality as well as whether the capacity of the infrastructures can meet development needs are all important considerations.

The planning concepts and principles mentioned by me above apply also to the change of use of a site. There will certainly be careful planning by us in determining the future land use of Government Secretariat. We will comprehensively consider and assess whether the proposed use meets public aspirations and interests. Should we propose change of use for the site, any proposal to change land use will have to be preceded by comprehensive assessment of the demand for land in Central, the impact of land development on traffic, environment and infrastructures, including the historical interests of the surroundings, the view of the ridgeline and the requirements of the Urban Design Guidelines.

Any amendment will have to undergo the statutory planning process laid down in the Town Planning Ordinance, including making public and displaying the proposed amendments as well as carrying out public consultation. Thereafter, the public views and representations will be presented to the Town Planning Board for consideration. Finally, the Chief Executive in Council will make a decision.

In the motion, both Hon Fred LI and Hon Alan LEONG refer to conservation of heritage and trees. In fact, we already have a clear policy. On conservation of heritage, we support and advocate conservation of heritage in Hong Kong. A cardinal principle of the policy lies in conservation of heritage instead of their takeover by the Government; conservation or otherwise should be determined by the buildings' heritage interest instead of the duration of their existence alone; and a proper balance has to be struck between heritage conservation and its economic cost, with full account taken of private property rights.

Under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, the Secretary for Home Affairs, as the Authority, may, after consultation with the Antiquities Advisory Board and with the approval of the Chief Executive, by notice in the Gazette, declare for conservation any place, building, site or structure, which the Authority considers to be of public interest by reason of its historical, archaeological or palaeontological significance, to be a monument, historical building or archaeological or palaeontological site or structure. Before declaring a place of heritage interest to be a statutory monument, the Government will fully consider its historical, archaeological or palaeontological significance and whether the declaration is in the public interest. A decision will be made after balancing various considerations. The Government will decide in accordance with the current policy on conservation of heritage building and the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance whether to declare the Government Secretariat building cluster to be statutory monument.

The suggestions of the two Members can be explored further. On whether the Government Secretariat building cluster should be classified as heritage for preservation and conservation, we have to wait for the study and assessment by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department of its historical and architectural features to confirm its historical and heritage interest. A decision to conserve in the absence of study and assessment would not be right - first, it is not in line with the requirements of the law and second, the public has no opportunity to comment. A better way is, as I said, to proceed step by step, with study and assessment carried out and the public fully consulted before taking a decision.

On conservation of trees, the Government is committed to protecting trees in Hong Kong, particularly the valuable and rare old trees.

Among the trees currently growing on the Government Secretariat site and in the vicinity, 13 of them have been registered in the Register of Old and Valuable Trees. The Government will ensure these old and valuable trees receive the best protection. These 13 trees include the Pterocarpus indicus which is familiar to all of us. Earlier, we openly undertook to fully adhere to our old tree preservation policy. In particular, we will do our utmost to protect and conserve all the trees including the Pterocarpus indicus growing in the open area of the existing Central Government Offices.

Moreover, large amounts of trees and plants can be found near the Government Secretariat. Extensively distributed in the Hong Kong Park and the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, they provide the public with a lush green open space in the urban area. In addition, green open space will be created along the new Central Waterfront in the future. Hence, Members need not be worried about insufficient green zones in Central.

Regarding Hon Fred LI's suggestion to convert some of the offices in the existing Government Secretariat into Government museum, under the Government's current cultural policy, various aspects have to be taken into account in setting up a museum. Such considerations include whether collections of historical and cultural values are available, whether the location is suitable for setting up a museum, and the resources required for the establishment and operation of the museum. As the Government is revisiting the requirements and the planning of provision of new museums in the West Kowloon Cultural District, and two new museums (namely the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum and Fireboat Alexander Grantham Museum) are planned for opening in 2007, there is no plan at the moment to convert the area left vacant by the relocation of the Government Secretariat into "Government museum".

At last, I would like to reiterate, as I have mentioned earlier, that we have not taken a view on the future use of the existing Government Secretariat site after relocation. Several years lie ahead before the Government Secretariat is relocated. We have plenty of time to allow us to study the matter in details. We undertake to consider public views and our social and economic needs prudently in determining the suitable use of the site. In the course of decision-making, we will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the future use of the site and, through the statutory planning process, fully consult the general public.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ends/Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Issued at HKT 19:50