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Speech by Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands on Legco motion on Conserving the Queen's Pier

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 on "Conserving the Queen's Pier" in the Legislative Council today (May 2):

Madam President,

There has been extensive and in-depth discussion in the Legislative Council (LegCo) and in the community on the preservation of the Queen's Pier (Pier) in the past few months. I thank Hon Alan LEONG for moving this motion today and Hon Mrs Selina CHOW and Hon CHEUNG Hok-ming for their amendments to the motion so as to provide us with an opportunity to update Members on the latest information and to make a conclusion on this issue.

A number of Members have just spoken on these motions and the messages they conveyed are very clear, i.e. the Government should effectively and properly preserve the Pier. Let me reassure you that this is exactly what we are doing. In fact, we have submitted to the Public Works Subcommittee (PWSC) of the Finance Committee for discussion on 9 May 2007 a funding application to enable us to proceed with the preservation works of the Pier.

In his motion, Hon Alan LEONG urged the Government to implement the most effective proposal for the in-situ preservation of the Pier. First of all, let us deal with the question of whether the Pier can be preserved in-situ. This is a technical issue which has to be dealt with by relevant experts. Indeed, our professional works departments have held four expert meetings with four relevant professional bodies, namely Conservancy Association (CA), Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), Association of Engineering Professionals in Society (AES) and Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA). The outcome of these meetings was reported in detail to the Panel on Planning, Lands and Works (the Panel) at its meetings on 27 March 2007 and 23 April 2007 respectively.

To facilitate the non-Panel Members' understanding of the issue, please let me brief you on the four proposals that have been examined by experts.

The first proposal is in-situ preservation by shifting the alignments of the planned infrastructures which are in conflict with the Pier. Three infrastructures will be affected, including the Airport Railway Extended Overrun Tunnel (AR EOT), the extension of an existing drainage box culvert at Man Yiu Street and Road P2. These three infrastructures form one single project. Failure to deliver any one of them will result in failure of the whole project. Some legislators imply that all the issues will be resolved if one of the three infrastructures is implemented. This is not true.

The second proposal is also in-situ preservation, which entails filling the void underneath the Pier by sand/grouting; constructing the underground EOT and drainage culvert by underpinning and tunneling method; and constructing a temporary road to buy time for completing the statutory procedures for the amendment scheme of Road P2 so as to preserve the Pier in-situ.

The third proposal is in-situ reinstatement by rolling the superstructure (roof and columns) away for construction of the underground infrastructure and rolling it back upon completion of the construction; and shifting Road P2 away from the Pier.

The fourth proposal is to preserve the above-ground structure of the Pier as far as practicable for reassembling in close proximity to its original location or at other appropriate location. In brief, this proposal includes preservation of the retainable parts of the above-ground structure of the Pier, transportation and storage of the preserved parts to/at a temporary location, strengthening of preserved parts and reassembling of the Pier in future.

Among these four proposals, the first and second ones, which are in-situ preservation, are in conflict with the planned essential infrastructures as I have just mentioned, i.e. the AR EOT, the extension of an existing drainage box culvert at Man Yiu Street and Road P2. Technically speaking, these two proposals are not practical and this view has been unanimously agreed by the four professional bodies.

The third proposal, i.e. the rolling method, was put forth by CA. Both HKIE and AES consider that this proposal would be highly risky and would involve significant additional time and costs. Taking the project risks into consideration, we agree with these professional bodies that we should not try such a risky proposal.

We note that AES has released an article in the press presenting their reasons for not supporting the first three proposals from an engineering perspective. Just now Hon Raymond HO has also spoken on these three proposals from the engineering angle. I believe that Members will appreciate the difficulties and risks involved in these proposals.

The remaining proposal, i.e. the fourth proposal, is the most reasonably practical one. Technically speaking, we are confident that this proposal is achievable, with minimum delay caused to the Central Reclamation Phase III (CRIII) project which would be in the range of four months and with relatively lesser additional cost. HKIE and AES have presented their written submissions to the Panel in support of this proposal. CA has also expressed no objection to this proposal.

At the Panel meeting held on 23 April 2007, Dr Hon KWOK Ka-ki moved a motion to request the in-situ preservation of the Pier. The motion was voted down. We proposed to the Panel to submit funding request of $50 million to the PWSC for taking forward the fourth proposal to preserve the Pier. Our funding proposal was supported by the Panel. The scope of the works has been explained in detail in the PWSC paper for discussion at its meeting to be held on 9 May 2007. It comprises the careful preservation of the retainable parts of the above-ground structure of the Pier; proper transportation and storage of the preserved parts at a temporary location; and suitable strengthening of the preserved parts for reassembly of the Pier at a later date.

Some Members and HKIA said we have not specifically undertaken to include reassembly of the Pier at its original location in the fourth proposal. We have said repeatedly on various occasions that we remain open-minded about the site for reassembling the Pier. It has been clearly stated in the PWSC paper that reassembly of the Pier at its original location is one of the options that we will explore.

We do not wish to decide on the location for reassembling the Pier at this stage because we have heard different public views on this issue. Some prefer reassembly at the original location, some prefer reassembly in proximity to its original location, and some wish it to be reassembled at the new waterfront to revive the marine function. It is normal that there are varied opinions about the issue given that Hong Kong is a diversified society. We wish to decide on the location through an open and transparent process with public engagement. Accordingly, we will extensively consult the public, professional bodies, the LegCo, District Councils etc. under the Central Reclamation Urban Design Study being conducted by the Planning Department before deciding on the site for reassembling the Pier. We believe Members of this Council would agree with us that we should engage the community in the discussion about this matter of public concern before we make the final decision.

Principles for effective preservation of the Pier

In his original motion, Hon Alan Leong demanded the Government to adopt the "Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China" (the Principles) approved by the Central People's Government in 2000 with "conservation in-situ, minimal interference, preservation of the original condition and protection of the heritage environment" as the principles for formulating and expeditiously implementing the most effective proposal for preserving the Pier in-situ. I would like to draw Members' attention to the fact that Article 18 of the Principles does not exclude the arrangement of relocating heritage in their historic condition to another site for conservation. In fact, a set of guidelines is provided under Section 13 of the "Commentary on the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China" on the basis that relocation is allowed for the purpose of preservation. Our proposal for preserving the Pier i.e. the fourth one, is in line with these principles.

In fact, as stated in our PWSC paper, the whole process of the preservation works would be carried out with reference to the relevant international charters and guidelines as well as the relevant guidelines of the Principles. We will carefully preserve the above-Pier structure. Measured drawings and photographic records of the existing condition of the Pier would be taken, collected and retained and the entire reassembly process will be documented as part of the effort to ensure that the Pier can be reassembled with precision. Works projects are usually solely administered by relevant works departments. However, in implementing this project, we have specifically requested the Director of Architectural Services to appoint a government architect with adequate seniority and proven experience in building preservation to advise and supervise the carrying out of the project. This is also a special arrangement made in response to the suggestion by CA and HKIA. With these arrangements, we are confident that we can ensure the proper handling of the works relating to the demolition and reassembly of the Pier.

Members have suggested that we should formulate and expeditiously implement the most reasonable, practical and effective proposal for preserving the Pier so as to minimize the impact on the CRIII works which are underway. I fully subscribe to this. The CRIII project is needed to provide land for essential transport infrastructures including the Central-Wan Chai Bypass, Road P2 network, the AR EOT and the North Hong Kong Island Line. The traffic congestion problem in Central and its vicinity is familiar to every one of us. We need to complete the reclamation as soon as possible before we can take forward the Central-Wan Chai Bypass works. We believe that it is the wish of the majority of the public that the Pier issue should be resolved effectively as soon as possible so that the infrastructure projects in the Central reclamation area can be implemented early.

I have just emphasized that the site will be selected through an open and transparent process with public engagement implemented under the Central Reclamation Urban Design Study recently conducted by the Planning Department. Apart from site selection, the design concept is another issue of public concern. Some members of the public have raised the idea of adding water feature to the design of the vicinity of the reassembled Pier. The subjects of the Central Reclamation Urban Design Study I have just mentioned cover not only the issue of site selection but also the discussion on the design concept. Extensive public engagement is a significant feature in the study process. I am glad to inform you that we have already embarked on such work. The first stage of the public engagement exercise under the Study undertaken by the Planning Department will be launched this week. Concepts on reassembly of the Pier at various locations will be included for public discussion, including the options of reassembling the Pier at its original location and at alternative sites. I believe the views expressed by Members of this Council, the community and professional bodies on this issue will be adequately discussed under the Study being conducted by the Planning Department.

I would like to reiterate that the in-situ preservation of the Pier is technically not reasonably practical and this is based on professional grounds. I therefore wish Members of this Council would vote against Hon Alan Leong's original motion. The Government hopes to preserve the Pier in accordance with the fourth proposal which I have just introduced, because this proposal is the most reasonably practical and effective way in preserving the Pier. At the same time, it allows the CRIII project to continue to proceed and can minimize the impacts on the works underway. It is in line with the principle of maintaining a proper balance between preserving the Pier and urban development. In proceeding with the relevant preservation works of the Pier, we will refer to relevant Mainland and international principles, and the preservation and reassembling work will be precisely conducted under the supervision of an experienced and qualified architect. We have started the extensive public consultation on the site for, and the design concept of, the reassembled Pier. We do not have any preset option and we keep an open mind about reassembling the Pier at its original location and other alternative locations. Our hope is to deliver a reassembled Pier which will be accepted by the majority of the community. I hope Members of this Council will support the amended motion moved by Hon Mrs Selina CHOW and the amendments to Mrs Chow's amended motion moved by Hon CHEUNG Hok-ming.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ends/Wednesday, May 2, 2007