Speech by SDEV at Symposium of the Hong Kong-Barcelona Urban Exchange Platform (English only)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, at the Symposium of the Hong Kong-Barcelona Urban Exchange Platform in Barcelona today (March 10, Barcelona time):

Dear Albert (Chief Urbanist of Barcelona City Council, Mr Albert Civit i Fons), Willy (CEO of Barcelona Regional, Mr Willy Müller), distinguished speakers, colleagues and representatives from Hong Kong, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to speak at the opening of this symposium.

I was in Barcelona for the World Sustainable Building Conference last October, less than five months ago. It is my great pleasure to be here again as it is such a vibrant, unique and attractive city. The symposium today signifies another important milestone of the Hong Kong-Barcelona Urban Exchange Platform.

In 2012, two memoranda of understanding (MOU) were signed between Barcelona and Hong Kong. The signing of the MOUs has provided an invaluable opportunity for the two cities to establish a platform for the exchange and sharing of experience and expertise in the area of urban planning, urban design, urban regeneration and waterfront development.

The first MOU was signed in July 2012 between Barcelona Regional and the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners and the Hong Kong Green Building Council, in the presence of Barcelona's Mayor (Xavier Trias) and Deputy Mayor (Antoni Vives) and over 200 guests. The MOU has drawn planning and related professionals together to strive for the highest possible standards in urban environment, design and sustainability. You can tell from this photo that the professional teams from the two cities have established a very cordial and constructive working relationship ever since the signing of the MOU.

A few months later, in November 2012, Mayor Xavier Trias and our Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, signed another MOU. This MOU provides governmental support for the sharing of expertise and experience in urban planning, urban design, urban regeneration and waterfront development as aforementioned, as a means to improve the quality of life and prosperity of its people.

The Hong Kong-Barcelona Urban Exchange Platform established after these two MOUs has opened up opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of expertise amongst professionals and policymakers of the two cities. Two projects - one at Kowloon East in Hong Kong and one at Litoral Morrot in Barcelona - have been chosen for our respective professionals to study and collaborate. Since then, there have been frequent exchanges between the two project teams. They have examined four specific themes, namely "green urban design", "connectivity", "place making" and the "land-water interface". The Hong Kong-Barcelona Exchange provides a framework for the sharing of knowledge and experience as well as exploring solutions to specific urban issues in both cities. I witnessed very fruitful discussions and exchange of ideas on waterfront regeneration at the symposium held in Hong Kong in February last year. I am delighted to participate in this symposium held in Barcelona today.

Hong Kong and Barcelona have much in common in both urban regeneration and waterfront development. Barcelona has been very successful in its urban regeneration and urban transformation. We are undertaking similar endeavours in Hong Kong. Our Director of Planning, Mr K K Ling, will talk about the urban transformation process taking place in the former industrial areas of Hong Kong in his keynote speech later on. The challenges and opportunities that our cities have faced in waterfront development and urban regeneration are very similar. We are both striving to achieve the same goal of balancing various social, economic and environmental needs to make our cities enjoyable and sustainable for our future generations.

Hong Kong's development in the late 20th century, such as the New Town development programmes embarked on in the 1970s, was aimed mainly at meeting the housing needs of an increasing population, providing land for economic activities and supporting community facilities. Hong Kong is now a highly urbanised city with a population of over 7 million and a vibrant economy.

As Hong Kong becomes more and more affluent, our people's needs and expectations are no longer just basic housing and employment. There is increasing aspiration for a socially embracing, environmentally friendly, economically vibrant and long-term sustainable development model. We all want a more liveable city with cleaner air, more open space, a greener environment and better leisure and cultural facilities. We need to find the best way of managing the transformation and development of our city while meeting these new public aspirations.

Aware of the far-reaching implications of our actions on our citizens, we must all acknowledge that planning and development should not be an activity controlled simply by professionals in the field, but by everyone in our community. It is vital to plan the city with the community and engage the public throughout the process. The implementation of our Energizing Kowloon East initiative illustrates the proactive public engagement approach that we are adopting in Hong Kong. The public are engaged in the formulation of the evolving Conceptual Master Plan for Kowloon East. Close communication and collaboration between the public and the Government takes place at various activities and events, which helps us to build consensus and facilitate the smooth implementation of the initiative.

Other than public engagement, the Energizing Kowloon East initiative adopts a "place-making" approach in facilitating the transformation of Kowloon East from an old industrial area, comprising Kwun Tong, Kowloon Bay and a former airport site, into an attractive alternative central business district in Hong Kong. It is an integrated community-based strategy covering planning, design, implementation and management that serves to highlight local community assets and their potential, in turn inspiring and creating good public spaces. To summarise, the strategy emphasises high-quality urban design, active dialogue and engagement, to create a sense of place and belonging in the community.

In addition to "place making", in Kowloon East we also pay due attention to other important aspects namely, "connectivity", "green urban design" and the "land-water interface". With "connectivity", we aim to provide a better pedestrian environment and more convenient linkages between activity cores and transport nodes, and improve mobility for both pedestrians and vehicles. Our Head of the Energizing Kowloon East Office, Ms Brenda Au, will talk about the various aspects of her work in "connectivity" later on.

As to "green urban design", we promote green buildings and plan to develop a green neighbourhood in Kowloon East. The "land-water interface" involves giving our waterfront a facelift for better public enjoyment, and we will introduce more water-based recreational activities when the water quality in Victoria Harbour is further improved. Our Kai Tak Fantasy project - covering the former airport runway tip, the Kwun Tong waterfront and the water body in between - will attach great importance to the land-water interface by creating a world-class tourism, entertainment and leisure attraction.

Our Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address in January this year that we will carry out a pilot study in Kowloon East to examine the feasibility of developing a so-called "Smart City", such as by using technology to enhance pedestrian and vehicular accessibility and manage district facilities, and disseminate information to the public in a digital format, with a view to making the area a better place for work and play. Our vision on the planning and development front is to build a more sustainable and liveable city based on several key principles. These include high-density and mixed-use development for more efficient use of our scarce land resources and greater vibrancy, while preserving our green countryside; wider use of information and communications technology and big data; promoting a low-carbon green community; and enhancing walkability and mobility, not only in Kowloon East but also in our new development areas. What I have described above is just a rough outline of the emphasis of our work.

The professionals of both cities working on the Kowloon East and Litoral Morrot projects have applied planning principles under the four themes that I mentioned earlier (i.e. "green urban design", "connectivity", "place making" and "land-water interface"). You are all welcome to see their work in the exhibition held in the building next door. Our distinguished speakers will share their knowledge and expertise on these four themes in greater detail at the plenary sessions later today.

Hong Kong is a dynamic and vibrant city. A number of my friends overseas have enquired about the situation in Hong Kong after the "Occupy Central" incident last year. However, I tell them - and I would like to take the opportunity to assure you too - that Hong Kong is back to business as usual. The economy remains very vibrant, inflation is low, the Government's fiscal position is strong, our investment in infrastructure continues to be at a very high level, and our people enjoy almost full employment. Hong Kong remains an open and welcoming city. We look forward to welcoming all of you to Hong Kong, whether for business or pleasure.

Finally, let me conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to the professional team in Barcelona for arranging this great symposium and to all those who have contributed to the activities conducted under the Hong Kong-Barcelona Urban Exchange in the past two years. I hope you all found these activities worthwhile. I wish you all a very fruitful discussion today and look forward to seeing the friendship of our two cities flourish even further in the years to come.

Thank you very much.

Ends/Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Issued at HKT 20:01