Speech by SDEV at Hong Kong Geography Day 2010 (English only)

Speech by SDEV at Hong Kong Geography Day 2010 (English only)

Following is the speech delivered by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, today (November 27) at the opening ceremony of Hong Kong Geography Day 2010:

Professor CHEN, Professor WANG, Professor XU, Professor ZHENG, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.  It gives me great pleasure to address this distinguished audience comprising academics, teachers and students of the geography education and research community.  I would like to thank the hosting institutions, the Department of Geography and Resource Management of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Geographical Association, for inviting me to speak on this special occasion.

Geography is a fascinating discipline.  Its literal translation is "to describe or write about the Earth".  Dr. TUAN Yifu, a renowned Chinese-American Geographer, says "Geography is the study of earth as the home of people".  Mr. John FAHEY , President and CEO of the National Geographic Society, says "a sound knowledge of geography is essential for understanding global events and their impact on the rest of the world …… (It is important) to educate our young people and empower them to be informed citizens and responsible stewards of our planet."  Hence, I wish to congratulate the success of our local educational institutions and the Hong Kong Geographical Association in promoting geography education in Hong Kong.

Indeed, geography is dynamic and encompassing.  It seeks to understand the Earth and all of its human and natural complexities.  I must say that I have high respect for geographers because they care about people and the places we live, which is also the main concern of myself and my colleagues in the Development Bureau.  It is interesting to note that many of my colleagues in the Planning Department are geography graduates.  About 44 % of the Town Planners in the Planning Department studied Geography for their bachelor or master degrees.  Therefore, this occasion might actually be seen as an opportunity of sharing with some of our potential town planners.

The theme today is "New Greater Pearl River Delta: The Path to Sustainability".  This topic is pertinent to all of us as well as our future generations, and I'm delighted to share my views with you.  Specifically, I'm going to talk about "Building a Coordinated and Sustainable World-class City Region", which involves joint efforts of Hong Kong, Macao and Guangdong.

First, let us have a consistent understanding of the terms "Pearl River Delta" and "Greater Pearl River Delta".  The Pearl River Delta region includes Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan, Jiangmen, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, and the urban areas of Huizhou and Zhaoqing of the Guangdong Province.  When we refer to the Greater Pearl River Delta region, it includes the above nine municipalities plus the two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao. 

Now, let's visualise the Greater Pearl River Delta region from a temporal dimension.  This year is 2010.  What has happened to the Greater Pearl River Delta region over the past 30 years?  Looking ahead, what would you envisage for the region in the coming 30 years?  Of course, we don't have the crystal ball for looking into the future, but, let's try to envision the picture in our mind.

Since the end of the 1970s, with the onset of China's economic reform and the opening of the Pearl River Delta for foreign trade and investment, the Greater Pearl River Delta region has emerged as one of the most affluent and fastest growing regions in the Mainland.  It is also one of the world's most dynamic economic areas.  According to the latest (6th) edition of the Greater Pearl River Delta Report published by Invest Hong Kong, the region has an average annual GDP growth rate in excess of 11% over the past 18 years.  In 2008, the nominal GDP for the Greater Pearl River Delta region reached US$665 billion.  Based on the World Bank's 2008 GDP ranking, the GDP of the Greater Pearl River Delta region was placed at 18th position, ahead of many countries including Poland, Indonesia, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia .

Hong Kong has played a significant role in the evolution of the Greater Pearl River Delta region.  In the 1980s, Hong Kong's entrepreneurs have capitalised on the development of the Pearl River Delta and taken the lead to pump in capital and move their factories to the Mainland.  At the end of 2008, more than 100,000 Hong Kong-invested enterprises had established themselves in Guangdong .

Today, the Guangdong Province has developed into one of the most important manufacturing bases in the world, while Hong Kong has successfully transformed itself from a manufacturing centre into a service-oriented metropolitan hub and a global finance centre.  We are complementing the production in the Mainland – this "factory of the world" – with our world class strengths in business networking and reputation in management, communication, logistics, finance and professional services.  To many, Hong Kong is the world's gateway to China and China's gateway to the world.  This is echoed by Professor Michael ENRIGHT, one of the authors of the Greater Pearl River Delta Report.  He said, "as part of Greater Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong is becoming not only a place where the rest of the world meets China, but also where China meets the rest of the world" .

To sustain Hong Kong's economic growth in the future, instead of relying merely on our traditional pillar industries of financial services, trading and logistics, tourism, and producer and professional services, we are also broadening our economic structure by promoting the six new industries as announced by the Chief Executive.  These new industries are education services, medical services, testing and certification services, environmental industries, innovation and technology, and cultural and creative industries, where we have clear advantages and hopefully will become our future economic drivers.  It is envisaged that these industries would also benefit from the enhanced regional cooperation.

Riding on the globalisation currents and taking full advantage as part of the Greater Pearl River Delta Region, Hong Kong is now one of the leading global cities.  Whilst there are many reports ranking the competitiveness of cities and economic entities, the 2010 edition of the World Competitiveness Yearbook ranked Hong Kong as the second most competitive economy in the world.  In the 2008 ranking conducted by the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network, Hong Kong was ranked third, trailing New York and London.  It was predicted that the world city network would likely be dominated by a global cities triad in the very near future: a new label "Nylonkong", which refers to the interconnectivity of these three cities, New York, London and Hong Kong, in driving the global economy as the leading international financial centres of Amercia, Europe and Asia respectively.  In the Global Financial Centres Index 8 (GFCI8) released in September 2010, which ranked 75 major financial centres in the world in terms of their competitiveness bi-annually, Hong Kong was placed third, following London and New York.  In overall terms, GFCI8 considered Hong Kong has joined London and New York as a genuinely global financial centre.  It is assuring to learn that the international competitiveness of Hong Kong would likely prevail.

One may say that past development of the Greater Pearl River Delta region appeared to be economic-led with the private sector taking much initiative.  In recent years, however, government initiatives at national, regional and local levels are actually playing an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the Greater Pearl River Delta region.  We could see stronger collaboration and major breakthroughs in regional development which go beyond the administrative boundaries.  I would like to highlight some notable policy initiatives below:

* Firstly, the signing of the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in 2003 and the signing of its Supplements in subsequent years  have opened the door for Hong Kong businesses to gain greater access to the Mainland market ;

* Secondly, the promulgation of the "Outline of the Plan for the Reform and Development of the Pearl River Delta Region (2008 to 2020)" (the Outline) by the National Development and Reform Commission in January 2009 has elevated the development and reform of the Pearl River Delta region and Hong Kong/Guangdong cooperation as national policies; and

* Thirdly, the signing of the "Framework Agreement on Hong Kong/ Guangdong Cooperation" by the Hong Kong and Guangdong Governments in April 2010 has set out the direction for deepening Hong Kong/Guangdong cooperation with clear targets and development positioning.

* At inter-government level, we now have a multi-stratum institutional framework to foster collaborative developments of the region.  At a higher level, we have the Hong Kong/Guangdong Cooperation Joint Conference and the Liaison and Coordinating Meeting of Hong Kong, Guangdong and Macao in jointly taking forward the Implementation of the "Outline".  In addition, there are numerous liaison and sharing experiences at the working levels to promote communication, information exchange and cooperation.  All these have provided a good platform for the relevant authorities in the region to jointly examine and resolve issues of common interest.

* In the realm of regional planning, which I suppose is a key area of research for geographers, we have come a long way in fostering cooperation.  The "Planning Study on the Coordinated Development of the Greater Pearl River Delta Townships" (the Greater Pearl River Delta Study), which was officially commenced in March 2006 and completed in October 2009, is the very first study in China on coordination of spatial planning involving different systems.  It is the first strategic planning study conducted under the framework of "One Country, Two Systems" by the Construction Department of Guangdong Province, the Secretariat for Transport and Public Works of Macao SAR, and my Bureau.  The findings of the study serve as a high-level strategic outline of recommendations on key planning issues.  They provide reference for the Governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao in formulating policies in regional cooperation and cross-boundary matters.  Well, I would share some of the study findings with you later.  More importantly, I wish to highlight that the study process is in fact an innovative and important step in fostering cooperation within the Greater Pearl River Delta region through a more proactive and institutional approach led by both government and market.  In fact, similar collaborative efforts are also noted in other realms such as the formulation of the Regional Cooperation Plan on Infrastructure Construction and the Regional Cooperation Plan on Building a Quality Living Area.  

So far, I have been painting a seemingly rosy portrait for the Greater Pearl River Delta region.  Yet, we all recognise that rapid economic growth and urbanisation are not without problems.  Strains on infrastructure, environment, energy and other public services, for example, are all real issues.  More and more, our society is looking for a better quality of life, instead of just economic development.  It is apparent that the key to healthy development of our region now rest on the notion of "sustainability".

Literally, "sustainability" means the capacity to endure.  A widely quoted definition is that of the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations (1987), which defines "sustainable development" as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

In the article "Study on the Sustainable Development of the Pearl River Delta Region" written by Professor XU Xueqiang of the Zhongshan University, we learnt that sustainable development was first made a national strategy in 1996, when the Fourth Session of the Eighth National People's Congress approved the "Outline of the Ninth Five-year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Long-range Objectives up to Year 2010".  In the same year, sustainable development was also declared one of the three major strategies of the Guangdong Province.  Against this background, sustainable development has progressively gained momentum in the Pearl River Delta region.  As Professor XU has succinctly put, "sustainable development means not only a better environment, but also signifies increased competitiveness, sustainable use of natural resources, social justice and public participation".

(i) SUSDEV 21

In Hong Kong, in response to the need to take account of environmental and social concerns as well as economic aspects when making decisions about our future, the Planning Department commissioned the "Study on Sustainable Development for the 21st Century in Hong Kong" (SUSDEV 21) in 1997.  It could be regarded as the first formal step towards bringing sustainability considerations into the management of our day to day activities .  The study has drawn up a definition of sustainable development which encapsulates the key themes and broad scope of sustainable development as it applies to Hong Kong:

"Sustainable development in Hong Kong balances social, economic, environmental and resource needs, both for present and future generations, simultaneously achieving a vibrant economy, social progress and high quality environment, locally, nationally and internationally, through the efforts of the community and the government."
The study has also provided a series of guiding principles and indicators representative of the key sustainable development issues in Hong Kong.  I now turn to how in Development Bureau's portfolio, we are applying these principles of sustainability.

(ii) Hong Kong 2030 Study

Under the overarching goal for sustainable development, the Planning Department has completed the Hong Kong 2030 Study , which was promulgated in late 2007.  The Study aims to provide a spatial planning framework to guide future land use and provision of major infrastructure in Hong Kong for the next 20 to 30 years.  Our vision for Hong Kong is to strengthen its position as Asia's world city, which is not only about economic growth and competitiveness, but also concerns achieving sustainable development.

Having given due consideration to the community views collected during the public consultation exercise, we have defined seven key planning objectives:

* First, providing a good quality living environment by giving due regard to the environmental carrying capacity.
* Second, conserving the natural landscape and preserving our cultural heritage.
* Third, enhancing Hong Kong's hub functions by strengthening our role as a global and regional financial and business centre.
* Fourth, meeting housing and community needs by ensuring timely provision of adequate land and infrastructure.
* Fifth, providing a framework to develop a safe, efficient, economically viable and environmentally friendly transport system.
* Sixth, promoting arts, culture and tourism to maintain Hong Kong as a world-class destination with unique cultural experience for visitors.
* Lastly, strengthening links with the Mainland to cope with the rapid growth of cross-boundary interaction.

Each of these objectives is considered as important as the other, and a careful balance amongst the objectives would need to be struck in making important planning decisions.

In a nutshell, our future roadmap will follow the principle of "do more with less" – to strive for better quality, higher efficiency while being prudent on resource utilisation and cautious about embarking on massive construction programmes on greenfield sites .  Based on this broad strategy, various measures have been suggested and I'm going to share with you some of the significant ones.

Firstly, we need to contain our urban growth.  Hong Kong has limited developable land and our city development has been based on a compact development model.  The built-up areas in Hong Kong only occupy about 24% of the total land area of some 1,100 km2.  Strict limitations on urban sprawl over the years have helped us maintain our city's growth in a sustainable manner, and we have been doing well in conserving our country parks.  To meet our future land use needs, we should continue to optimise the use of existing developed areas and explore new land resources in a sustainable manner.  A revised Urban Renewal Strategy now under public consultation and planning and engineering studies on New Development Areas at Kwu Tung North, Fanling North, Ta Ku Ling / Ping Che and Hung Shui Kiu are our responses.

Secondly, we should continue our good town planning practice with an integrated land use-transport-environment approach.  As rail generally creates lower environmental impact than road-based transport modes, it should continue be the backbone of our public transport system.  To encourage wider use of rail, we would encourage a development pattern with higher development intensity around the rail stations.  The integrated land use-transport-environmental approach will continue to be adopted with a view to minimising the demand for travel and reducing the need for additional transport infrastructure.  And as many of you are aware, we are investing heavily in our rail infrastructure – with the West Island line, South Island line and Sha Tin – Central Link enhancing internal accessibility and the Express Rail Link linking Hong Kong to the Mainalnd's extensive high speed railway network.

Thirdly, we should encourage re-cycling the use of developed land and buildings.  Economic restructuring in the past decades has generated a substantial amount of surplus industrial floorspace.  In response, we have rezoned surplus industrial land to other areas and relaxed the uses permissible in the "Industrial" zone to allow greater flexibility in the use of the surplus industrial buildings.  In addition, a package of new measures has been implemented since April this year to revitalise the surplus industrial buildings by encouraging building owners to carry out redevelopment and wholesale conversion .  We hope that these innovative measures could help sustain the competitiveness of Hong Kong and make good utilisation of the obsolete buildings.

Fourthly, we are embarking on unprecedented efforts to conserve Hong Kong's heritage for our future generations.  A total of ten government-owned historic buildings are under exciting revitalisation projects that will enrich our city experience.  Just to name a few – the North Kowloon Magistracy has been transformed into the Asian campus of Savannah College of Art and Design; a deserted police station in the fishing village of Tai O will become a heritage boutique hotel and Hong Kong's first public rental housing Mei Ho House will be adapted into an international youth hotel.  In addition, we have a masterplan "Conserving Central" covering eight distinct projects including the beautification of a new Central Harbourfront.

Last but not least, we need to strengthen our link with the Mainland.  To leverage on our links with the Mainland, we seek to enhance our connections to the Mainland's transport network and transportation systems, in particular the Pearl River Delta region.  For example, we have joined hands with our Mainland counterparts in planning and implementing the various cross-boundary railway and expressway projects as well as boundary control points such as the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point.  To promote information sharing and collaboration to sustain the advancement of the Greater Pearl River Delta region, we are undertaking joint regional planning studies with our Mainland and Macao counterparts.  These include the Greater Pearl River Delta Study which I have mentioned earlier, and the ongoing "Study on the Action Plan for the Bay Area of the Pearl River Estuary" with an objective to enhance the livability of the Bay Area.  These studies have provided a valuable platform for cross-fertilisation of ideas amongst the parties involved.  In addition, we are also working closely with our Shenzhen counterparts in developing the Lok Ma Chau Loop and the Qianhai area to cultivate mutual benefits.

In the words of the then Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr. Donald Tsang, in the First International Symposium on Sustainable Development back in 2002, which still hold true, "Hong Kong is a place where life is intense, change is frequent and new issues surface quickly.  We often spend so much time responding to challenges in our own society that we forget that we are part of a much bigger picture.  For although we like to see ourselves as a distinct economic and social force, we must also recognise that in some aspects we are simply a city in a region that is itself part of a much larger country.  Moreover, our country is one of many in a world where the consequences of our actions can reach far beyond the boundaries of cities and states."

For all of us, especially for our young generation, it is important to have a more holistic and forward-looking vision towards our future development.

Our future is shaped by many actors: government, private sector, academics, interest groups, etc in different spatial dimensions.  We are pleased to see that Hong Kong is now a leading global city and there is a good momentum of development in the Greater Pearl River Delta region.  We envision that the Greater Pearl River Delta city-region is becoming more polycentric, and Hong Kong would need to recognise the synergy of cooperation and collaboration.  Our relationship with the region is no longer dominated by a one-way flow of capital from Hong Kong to the Mainland.  It is becoming more multi-faceted with growing interaction and complementarities in all realms.

Most important of all, our vision of development must transcend from a city-centre dimension to sustainable development for the whole region with a more holistic emphasis on mutual benefit and enhancement of quality of life through regional cooperation.  Increasingly, we need to address the common issues facing Hong Kong, Macao and the Pearl River Delta region with a view to formulating regional strategies for the overall benefit of the entire Greater Pearl River Delta region, not only in relation to our economic strength, but also the quality environment and social harmony. 

I am glad that today, we also have guests and participants from our neighbouring cities such as Guangzhou and Zhongshan.  I hope we could all share our experience and vision and enjoy this memorable day!

Thank you.