Speech by SDEV at Conference on Community Planning (English only)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, today (September 28) at the Conference on Community Planning organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Planners:

President of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners Dr Cookson Smith, Mr Wates, friends from overseas, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to extend my warmest welcome to all participants and experts from all over the world today to participate in the community planning conference organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Planners. It gives me great pleasure to speak to you on this meaningful occasion.

With rising aspirations for a better living environment and a strong desire for nature and heritage conservation on the one hand, and pressing needs for housing, office, commercial, industrial and community facilities on the other, the Government has to reconcile the various competing and sometimes even conflicting uses of land through close interaction with the public, interest groups and the community as a whole.

Therefore, community engagement has been playing an important part in the planning process of Hong Kong. Over the past three decades, it has evolved from a passive form of public consultation to community engagement in a proactive manner, that is, from "planning for the people" to "planning with the people". Now, let me quickly take you through the various milestones of our public engagement's evolution history.

First of all, on Hong Kong's statutory planning, the Town Planning Ordinance was enacted in 1939. The Ordinance was drawn up with limited provisions for public consultation. The public could only submit objections on statutory town plans and the hearing of objections was conducted by the Town Planning Board in closed meetings. There was no express provision for public consultation on planning applications. Following a comprehensive review, we amended the Town Planning Ordinance in 2005 in order to make the statutory planning system more open and transparent. In relation to plan-making, statutory town plans are now published for public inspection and representations. Moreover, planning applications are published for public comments as well. All representations received during the publication period would be published for public comments. Representers and commenters are invited to attend the meeting of the Town Planning Board to present their views. The Town Planning Board would take into account all the public comments in making a decision on the applications. Other important features of the amended Ordinance include opening up the Town Planning Board meeting for public viewing, and that most of the papers and minutes of the Board are now available for public inspection.

In the early 1980s, public participation in planning in Hong Kong had adopted a "study, plan and consult" approach. In preparing the first Territorial Development Strategy in 1984, which is our strategic planning statement, an illustrative booklet entitled "Planning for Growth" was published for public reference in accordance with the consultation procedure at that time. Obviously, such communication with the public was very much one-way.

Into the '90s, in response to the increase in public awareness and with the emergence of interest and pressure groups, we took a step further in gauging public feedback on planning proposals. In addition to releasing conventional consultation documents, we started to meet directly with various stakeholders, boards, committees and organisations.

For example, in the Territorial Development Strategy, we consulted the then District Boards, the Legislative Council, various concerned groups and committees, but still rather than the public at large.

Due to the quest for an open and transparent government and at the same time a more open planning system, we had then taken a more proactive approach in engaging the public in our planning process. The Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Study (HK2030 Study) is a typical example, during which we had launched extensive public consultation throughout the entire process in a very broad scale.

The HK2030 Study comprised a four-stage study process, that is, agenda setting and baseline review, examination of key planning issues and establishment of an evaluation framework, formulation of scenarios and options and, finally, formulation of development strategy and response plans.

In each stage of the study process, we had arranged consultation forums with stakeholder groups including the District Councils and other interested individuals, focus meetings to enable in-depth discussions on specific topics, briefings and presentations to statutory and advisory bodies, professional institutions, secondary schools and other organisations, roving exhibitions, as well as the provision of an electronic discussion forum on the HK2030 Study website.

In addition, we have organised planning design competitions and training courses for young people in order to provide them with an opportunity for them to express their aspirations and proposals for the future of Hong Kong.

The public views collected in each stage of the HK2030 Study were very useful for us in responding more effectively and appropriately to public expectations and in revising or adjusting the planning proposals before proceeding to a further stage of study. More importantly, extensively involving the public in the planning process helped build the public consensus on our broad planning directions, as well as promote ownership amongst the community.

In addition to public engagement, a panel of advisors had been set up to provide professional and specialist advice on the issues relevant to the HK2030 Study. This panel comprises specialists in various fields including economic, transport, environment and Mainland affairs. The engagement of outside experts not only had broadened the perspectives of the Study, but also reinforced the partnership between the Government and the non-government sectors in charting the future development of Hong Kong.

Acknowledging that planning is not an activity owned just by the planning professionals, and everyone can be the planner of our community, we consider it vital to plan with the community and engage the public at the early stage of the planning process. The proactive approach adopted in the HK2030 Study was further enhanced in the replanning of our old airport site at Kai Tak. An envisioning exercise was carried out at the outset of the Kai Tak Planning Review in identifying community visions, public aspirations, planning objectives, key issues, development components and the study approach. The public was also involved in the decision-making process including generating options, identifying the preferred options and agreeing on the way forward. Such collaborative action between the public and the Government would help achieve consensus building and facilitate the subsequent smooth implementation of the planning proposals.

With the positive experience gained from the Kai Tak Planning Review, we have since then adopted the Kai Tak approach as a basis for structuring public engagement activities for various subsequent planning studies.

We believe that community engagement is fundamental to good planning, and thus we have expanded our modes of engaging the community in different aspects of our planning work. We have employed a dedicated mobile exhibition centre together with roving exhibits to reach out to the secondary schools and the public in shopping centres, so as to arouse public awareness and promote interest in planning activities. The establishment of a "User Liaison Group within the Planning Department" also provides an effective channel for us to collect suggestions from individuals from different walks of life.

For some studies at the very local level, we even went onto the street to get in touch with the locals who were the groups most affected. The on-street forums held for the pedestrian plan for Causeway Bay and the Area Improvement Plan for Tsim Sha Tsui are good examples. By walking into the crowd, we were able to engage the sectors of the community which were less likely to come forward and provide their views.

In pursuing public engagement in the planning process, we have also taken advantage of technological advancements. Through the wider use of information technology in the delivery of public service under the e-Government initiatives, we have become more proactive and responsive to the changing aspirations of our community.

In 2005, we have established a web-based Geographic Information System Statutory Planning Portal. This provides a convenient, effective and round-the-clock channel in disseminating statutory planning information to the public. At the same time, it encourages the community to participate in the planning process and enhances the openness and transparency of the statutory planning system in Hong Kong.

In addition, a Public Participation Geographic Information System was devised as an e-engagement platform to conduct online public engagement exercises. The system provides an interactive digital environment of satellite images and maps for interactive communication with the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In applying the e-engagement platform in the Study on the Enhancement of the Lau Fau Shan Rural Township and Surrounding Areas, we have received positive feedback on its application, both in terms of its convenience as well as the much wider extent of the public that we could reach to.

More importantly, the dynamic and interactive visualisation of planning proposals via this system enables the public to better understand the land use planning concepts and proposals under consultation. This in turn encourages and facilitates the community to submit more in-depth, focused and quality suggestions on the proposals.

Last but not the least, there is one more dimension in the planning process that has emerged in recent years that has to be reckoned with, if the project is to succeed. This is the political dimension. In some of the overseas jurisdictions, this may be already a given, but for Hong Kong, we are learning to deal with it properly. In an open civic society, one can reasonably expect that there are divergent views and more active public participation in community affairs, in particular town planning matters which have far-reaching implications to the livelihood of people and the social as well as economic development of the city. The recent debate on the North East New Territories New Development Areas (NENT NDAs) is a vivid example. As you know, the conception for NENT NDAs was back in 1990s. It was subsequently shelved due to the then market condition but was revived again in 2007 as one of the 10 mega infrastructure projects. The Stage I consultation was in late 2008 and after about four years we are now in the final days of the Stage III consultation. In the recent two months, it has generated heated discussions and attracted strong suspicion among some members of the community. As a responsible and transparent government, we are listening to the views very carefully. However, I am concerned that some discussions have been based on misinformation or unfounded speculation. In this respect, the views of the professional sectors are very important in helping members of the public in gaining a fair understanding of the subject matter. I think professionals' views should not be expressed just on paper to the Government, but also expressed to the public. I think our planners who are experts in land use and urban design can play a respected role in providing thought leadership, and assist in advocating public policy that they believe is good for the community. Your opinion will help clarify doubts and also contribute to a more balanced and rational public debate.

I believe we all share the same wish of planning our city for the better livelihood of people and the prosperous development of Hong Kong. I appeal to you for providing this city with much needed thought leadership and policy advocacy. This will help not just our beloved community, but also enhance the community recognition and reputation of the planning profession.

Striking a balance in planning is always not an easy task, particularly when there are diverse views and interests among the parties concerned. Nevertheless, with more community participation and dialogue among stakeholders, interest groups, as well as planners/government officials, there is definitely a prospect of reaching a consensus on our development proposals.

I am glad that the Hong Kong Institute of Planners has organised this conference to share and explore more about the role of public engagement in the planning process. With the presence of experts like you, I am confident that the conference today would provide an important platform for knowledge and experience sharing. I trust good suggestions and ideas to enhance engagement practices in the planning field will emerge today.

I wish the conference a great success. For our overseas visitors, do enjoy Hong Kong. Shop till you drop. Thank you very much.

Ends/Friday, September 28, 2012
Issued at HKT 17:47