Following is a speech by the Director of Planning, Mr Bosco Fung, at the Designing Hong Kong Harbour District Stakeholders Lunch Meeting at Island Shangri-La Hotel today (March 16) (English Only):
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Many thanks to the Designing Hong Kong Harbour District organisers for giving me this opportunity to present the Government's position on harbour reclamation to all of you. Now that all the court cases are behind us and the legal principle on harbour reclamation has been clearly defined, it is time to turn a new chapter in the planning and development of our harbour. And it is time to build community consensus on how we should enhance and make the best out of what we all regard as one of the most precious public assets of Hong Kong. It is time to heal and move on.
To set an overall scene, I would like to take stock of the whole harbour reclamation saga and share with you some of our thoughts on how we intend to take the matter forward.
First of all, let us look back on how our harbour has evolved and how public aspirations have changed. Undeniably, reclamation used to be a mainstay of land supply to meet ever-growing housing and economic needs in Hong Kong. Most of our Central Business District and many of our essential infrastructure projects like roads and railways were built on reclaimed land. Public sentiment towards harbour reclamation, however, changed rapidly in the mid-90s. With seemingly incessant urban growth eating further into Victoria Harbour, the public started to ask whether it was the right way forward.
These community concerns culminated in the enactment of the Protection of Harbour Ordinance in 1997. The Government also shared the view that Victoria Harbour was a special public asset and a part of the natural heritage of Hong Kong that should be protected and preserved. We therefore took the initiative to initiate amendment to the Protection of Harbour Ordinance to extend its coverage from the Central Harbour to include the entire Victoria Harbour in 1999. In recognition of the spirit of this ordinance and the rising community aspirations, the Town Planning Board also set out in October 1999 a vision statement for Victoria Harbour, pledging to make it attractive, vibrant, accessible and symbolic - to create a Harbour for the people, a Harbour of Life.
To fulfil this vision, the Planning Department has reviewed the planning of the Harbour based on the planning intent to protect the Harbour and to create a quality waterfront for the people.
We reviewed all the planned reclamation projects. Of the seven proposals within the harbour, which dated back to the 1980s, Kowloon Point and Tsim Sha Tsui were dropped some years ago and they never proceeded to the statutory planning stage. The other two at Tsuen Wan and Hong Kong Island West were also deleted recently from the relevant statutory plans.
We have reviewed the statutory plans for Southeast Kowloon, Central and Wan Chai which contained reclamation proposals. We have undertaken active public consultation on harbour reclamation projects through various means, including the exhibition of Outline Zoning Plans under the Town Planning Ordinance. As a result of the hearing of public objections and representations by the Town Planning Board, in the case of South East Kowloon Development, for example, the size of reclamation was reduced from about 300 to 130 hectares. Similarly, the size of reclamation for the Central Extension OZP was reduced from 38 to 23 hectares, and for Wan Chai, from 45 to 28 hectares.
Hearing of objections with the objectors appearing in person before the Town Planning Board was part and parcel of the whole consultation and plan-making process. In addition to this statutory process, there was also wide public consultation at different stages of the planning review. In the case of Southeast Kowloon Development, for example, we convened three forums open to all members of the public, and more than 20 briefings to various organisations, including District Councils, Legco panels, professional bodies and environmental groups. The revision of the plans and scaling down of the reclamation extent was a result of the public consultation.
Apart from the statutory planning process, the Planning Department also consulted the public on harbour planning through the Harbour Plan Study. The study, launched in late 1999, comprised two stages, each featuring a series of public consultation activities, including a public forum in March 2001 attended by 200 people representing community groups, professional bodies, statutory committees, green groups and other interested parties, and a forum tailor-made for District Council members. These together with the views we obtained from other avenues during the three-year study process resulted in a set of harbour planning principles and a planning framework, as well as development concepts for certain selected Harbourfront Action Areas as a basis for detailed planning.
As you can see, extensive public consultation on harbour planning did take place, and we have responded positively to the views received during the consultation. Criticisms that the Government never listens are harsh, and quite unfair. We have the same aspirations for our Harbour as the community. What went wrong was perhaps because our interpretation of the Protection of Harbour Ordinance was based on legal opinion that was now found to be different from that of the Court of Final Appeal. Of course, this is all history now. But one must learn from history. The lesson we can learn, in my opinion, is that community views and aspirations are never static and can change quickly, and we should be more forward-looking and proactive in coping with changing public aspirations. There is also always room for improvement of the public consultation process and the form of consultation. To realise our goal of returning the harbour to the people, we must step up dialogue with the people and establish partnership with all the stakeholders. We must engage the whole community in a frank, open and rewarding dialogue, and try to encourage balanced discussion rather than emotive exchanges.
A platform on which we can start this community engagement process is a comprehensive review of our Harbour Plan that was formulated before the latest spate of judicial reviews. The objective is to produce a new integrated harbourfront plan, not merely for harbour protection, but also for harbour enhancement, and to create opportunities for better access, higher visual quality and a livelier harbourfront area for the enjoyment of our people and visitors.
The comprehensive review, as I can see it at this juncture, may comprise three major components, with full community participation in each of them. The first major component can include a review of the harbour planning principles and the overall planning framework that were previously established. Feedback and opinions from the community on the harbour planning principles can then form the basis for the second and third components, ie, enhancement of the existing harbourfront areas and review of the planning of the new reclamation areas. The second component can focus on long-term new opportunities and appropriate new land uses for our existing harbourfront areas, as well as opportunities for immediate action to enhance public enjoyment of these areas.
As for the third component, that is, the new reclamation projects, I wish to reiterate the now well-rehearsed Government statement that apart from CRIII, Wan Chai North and Southeast Kowloon, there will be no more reclamation in the harbour in future. For Wan Chai North and Southeast Kowloon, we will soon be commencing further studies to ensure that any new reclamation, if proposed, will be in full compliance with the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance based on the "overriding public need test". We will attach the greatest importance to early consultation with the public, even at the stage of development of conceptual ideas. Open discussion forums with all stakeholder groups will be organised. So every one of you can participate in them to express views at an early stage.
The Harbourfront Enhancement Advisory Committee announced by the Government last week, which will comprise members of different community interest groups, will also provide an important forum to discuss harbourfront planning and development issues. Details of the membership and operation of this Advisory Committee, as well as those of the community engagement programme for the harbour planning review will be announced later. With full community support and participation, I am confident that our vision for a world-class harbourfront in Hong Kong can be realised.
The recent series of activities mounted by the various community initiatives like the Citizen Envisioning @ Harbour and this Designing Hong Kong Harbour District initiative mark an important community movement to enhance our harbourfront for the enjoyment of all. I look forward to your continued contribution to harbour planning. Together, we can make a difference. Thank you.
Ends/Tuesday, March 16, 2004