Speech by SDEV at "Construction R&D Forum - Bringing Applied R&D to New Heights" (English only)

     Following is the speech entitled "Applied R&D in Public Works" by the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn, at the "Construction R&D Forum - Bringing Applied R&D to New Heights" today (November 4):
Financial Secretary (Mr Paul Chan), Professor Teng (President of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Professor Teng Jin-guang), Ir Dr Chan (Chairman of the Steering Committee of the University-Government-Industry Consortium for Sustainable Urban Development (UGI Consortium), Dr Andrew Chan), dear guests, ladies and gentlemen,
     Good morning. It is my great pleasure to join you all here today at this important forum.
     First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to UGI Consortium in jointly organising this meaningful forum with us. It is inspiring to know from Professor Teng's keynote presentation on how local research from universities can support innovation for our construction industry. And I thank Professor Teng for sharing with us your views on how we in the Government can do better. Of course the Government plays a key role in driving construction innovation, in particular promoting applied R&D in public works. Let me give you a brief account of our work on this front, particularly the ample opportunities which lie in front of us.
     As all of you would agree, the construction industry has long been playing a critical and active role in the development of Hong Kong. We have been delivering infrastructure and urban development to improve people's living environment, support social and economic development and enhance the long-term competitiveness of Hong Kong. If we put together the construction works in both public and private sectors, the total annual construction output last year was about $240 billion, which is quite a significant portion of Hong Kong's total GDP at about 9 per cent. And this figure will reach $300 billion in a few years' time.
     So we must not stay put. We need to continue delivering infrastructure and urban development for boosting and supporting our land and housing supply, and in fact, we do have a large portfolio of projects in the pipeline. These include the Lantau Tomorrow Vision, the Northern Metropolis development, public housing, hospital development, transport infrastructure, and more and more. And with all these projects, we are sure we can develop Hong Kong to new horizons and this also means that a lot of opportunities for the industry and our young talents are lying ahead.
     But while we are all gearing up to the massive construction volume, we are also facing other challenges, some of which have been mentioned by our Financial Secretary just now. First, as announced in the Policy Address this year, we need to enhance quantity, speed, efficiency and quality in land production and public housing supply. Why is this a challenge? As the same goals, it is from our sirs, including the Financial Secretary, this is an order.

     And we are also having an ageing labour force. The median age of our construction skilled workers is 54 and almost half of them are 55 years old or above. The inverted triangular distribution, you see here, also shows that the construction industry is not as attractive as we would want it to be for our young people.
     Then, on construction cost, although our ranking in the international cost report has dropped from third to eighth last year and then to ninth this year, we still rank top among the Asian cities, meaning we are the most expensive place to build in Asia. And I am sure you will agree with me that it is not a thing we should be proud of.
     So we have to change. Since 2018, we have been promoting Construction 2.0 by advocating "Innovation", "Professionalisation" and "Revitalisation" to uplift the performance of construction industry. And innovation is a major key to enhance our productivity, to enhance the performance of the industry and to attract our young people who love innovation, and in overall terms to tackle the challenges ahead.
     It is not easy for realising "Innovation". Take aircraft as an example. Back to the 16th century, some say even earlier than that, there were a lot of conceptual ideas for flying in the sky. But for several hundred years, these concepts were still concepts and dreams of humankind. It wasn't until 1903 that the Wright brothers took trials and made the first successful flight, putting the concepts to real applications. But we note that after a comparatively short period of time, we had the world's first commercial airline. This means how important is the pilot in order to drive innovation and once we have the pilot off the ground we will have a quantum leap.
     And for our construction industry, when we talk about innovation, we have to go through mainly three processes, from fundamental R&D, and then to apply R&D then to industry application. Applied R&D is a crucial stage, which turns the fundamental R&D from the universities into real application in the industry. In fact, we have many international renowned universities and research institutes in Hong Kong and they have been doing a lot of useful research. We also have a forthcoming industry. Many of our industry stakeholders are ready to embrace innovation and are embracing so. But the remaining challenge is undoubtedly the gap in applied R&D.
     I realise that, for our construction industry, heavy burdens have been put to our authorities to accept innovations. It is perhaps understandable that the approving authorities have to balance between accepting innovations and their responsibilities to safeguard public safety. As a result, they usually need to take a prudent approach to request for evidence-based reference and local standards, in order to accept new R&D products. To bridge the gap, we need someone to take trials and this someone in the construction innovation sector is of course the Government in our public works projects.
     Our public works projects can offer a wide spectrum of platforms for piloting innovation by site application, providing performance data and establishing relevant standards and requirements. Just to give a few examples, the Grade S690 high-strength steel was applied for the first time in Hong Kong in the main span of the Cross Bay Link. And concrete MiC (modular integrated construction) was applied for the first time in the Pak Shing Kok Fire Services Department staff quarters. These can serve as important references to support industry-wide applications and will bring benefits to the construction industry at large.
     And to take forward our efforts on this front, we established the Task Force on Applied R&D in Public Works Projects last year. So apart from funding, it is important to have the right setup to spearhead this important vision. So the Development Bureau is leading relevant departments in steering and formulating policies on applied R&D through this task force. And we will cover areas including adoption of new construction materials, new construction methods and equipment, advanced technologies in public works, as well as standard reviews. We wish to enhance the overall productivity and performance of the construction industry.
     The Task Force will take forward a number of major objectives. First of all, we will provide support and co-ordinate efforts of the works departments in piloting applied R&D co-ordination. We will also serve as a platform to facilitate the exchanges between the universities and the industry. Last but not least, we will provide support for the authorities' acceptance of the new R&D products.
     As announced by the Chief Executive in his Policy Address this year, the Government will continue to promote applied R&D as well as adoption of new materials and innovative construction technologies in public works and the wider construction industry. We also have the support from the Financial Secretary in his Budget this year earmarking $30 million for us to promote applied R&D. With this funding support, we will continue to take the lead to pilot applied R&D in public works projects. We will engage our universities for providing expert support for our project teams as they try to overcome hurdles during pilot applications, with the universities helping us to measure the benefits and formulate relevant specifications. We will also foster a closer university-government-industry collaboration to facilitate the knowledge exchange through organising forums, like the one we have today, seminars and visits.
     And of course I must mention also that the financial support which the Financial Secretary has kindly given us is not confined to $30 million. We have also been granted $2.2 billion for the Construction Innovation and Technology Fund and we have to use it well. And one important mission for us next year is to have Smart Site Safety systems installed in all public works sites of our contracts valued above $30 million. And we also want to have that promoted across the private sector, so hopefully next year we will see all these Smart Site Safety systems being installed around the territory.

     So I would like to call for your support and we have to join hands to promote applied R&D to support the construction innovation, enhancing the performance and sustainability of our industry and also contributing to the development of Hong Kong. Now let us move on to further horizons.
     The 14th Five-Year Plan sets out the vision for turning China into a global leader in innovation. I hope that riding on our world-class expertise and experience in construction, we can also make our contribution to this end, supporting Hong Kong, the Greater Bay Area and our country to be the global leader in construction innovation.
     Thank you.
Ends/Friday, November 4, 2022
Issued at HKT 17:07

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