Following is the transcript of the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen's media stand-up on the Court of Final Appeal's judgment on harbour reclamation today (January 9):
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands: The Court of Final Appeal, in its judgment today, has laid down a single test such that the presumption against reclamation can only be rebutted by establishing an overriding public need for reclamation. This single test replaces the three tests as previously set out in the High Court judgment. In explaining what amounts to an overriding public need, we are pleased to note that the CFA has adopted a number of considerations which are similar to those put forth by the Counsel representing the Town Planning Board. This has in our view resulted in a widened definition and scope of coverage embodied in the single test for rebutting the presumption against reclamation.
The CFA judgment has removed doubts in the community in the past few months as to whether there could be further reclamation. It also provides room for the Government and the people of Hong Kong to deliberate on the need to strike a balance between protecting the harbour and meeting social, economic and environmental needs. The CFA has given us a clear and final judgment on the clarification of the law. This will greatly help us in the formulation and implementation of future planning for the Harbour.
Reporter: (Regarding Central reclamation)
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands : We have suspended most of the works. We will not be resuming full-scale work on-site until, and unless, we have got a final decision from the court case which is still pending. As you would recall, the Society (The Society for Protection of the Harbour) has launched a judicial review against the implementation of the Central Reclamation III project. So we're waiting for the Society to see whether they will insist on carrying on with their judicial review. And if so, we will wait for a final judgment from the court.
Reporter: Will the Government drop the Wan Chai project?
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands: Following from the original High Court decision, we decided not to proceed with the town plan. The Town Planning Board has decided to drop the proposal for the man-made island. And they have also decided to re-do the planning for the whole north Wan Chai. With the judgment coming out from the Court of Final Appeal, the Town Planning Board will, of course, be reviewing their plan and will draw up a new plan in accordance with the provisions of the judgment handed down by the Court of Final Appeal. In so far as the Central Reclamation is concerned, previously we have carried out an independent exercise to make sure that the reclamation work proposed satisfied the original three tests as imposed on us by the High Court. But, of course, as I've just said, the Court of Final Appeal has now replaced the three tests by one single test. We will, of course, measure it against the new test. We are confident that at the end of the day, we will be able to come up with results to show that we satisfied the test as imposed by the Court of Final Appeal.
Reporter: Will you carry on dredging work in Central? What will it be going to cost the government?
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands: It is already costing us a lot of money by not resuming full-scale work. We are not in a position to quantify the monetary considerations in this particular regard. But as I've just said we will not be resuming the full-scale work until we have settled all the court cases. As you know there is still a pending judicial review in respect of the reclamation project in Central. Until and unless that is out of the way, we will not be resuming full-scale work.
Reporter: (Regarding Wan Chai North reclamation)
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands: In terms of the Wan Chai North reclamation, the Town Planning Board has readily considered that there is a need to retract the old plan and to re-do a new planning study for the whole area. The Board has accepted in full, and has said so. They have said that they are no longer proceeding with the proposal for the man-made island in Wan Chai North and so in Wan Chai North they are already beginning their preparatory work for the drawing up of a new plan. And, of course, with the judgment coming out from the Court of Final Appeal, they will follow both the letter and the spirit of the judgment in drawing up their new plan.
Reporter: What work will be resumed? Will you consider other alternatives?
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands: For example, in the original judgment handed down by the High Court there was a requirement for the imposition of three tests. In this Court of Final Appeal judgment those three tests have now been replaced by one test which concerns the overriding public need. And in various parts of the judgment, there is explication of what is meant by overriding public need. Also in the original judgment, when talking about alternatives, the word used was "viable" alternative. But it is now replaced by the word "reasonable" alternative, which is capable of being admitted at a much lower threshold. The judgment devoted a whole paragraph to defining what's meant by a "reasonable" alternative. For example, we can now take into consideration things like cost, undue delay, and so on and so forth, which is absent from the original judgment. We have already considered all other alternatives. As I've just said, the Court of Final Appeal now requires us to consider "reasonable" alternatives as opposed to "viable" alternatives. Reasonableness being explained in some detail in the judgment. I don't think I would go into details of it here. But to answer your first question, full-scale resumption of work means the piling work, the construction of seawall and so on and so forth. We are continuing and maintaining works with respect to dredging.
Reporter: Why does the administration continue to insist that the Bypass is necessary and encourage more road traffic, which will worsen Hong Kong's air quality instead of trying something like road congestion charging to discourage people from coming to Central - considering using a car from Central to Wan Chai as a privilege not a right, which your administration continues to maintain?
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands: I think it's got to be considered in its historical perspective. Reclamation projects are not projects which last days, weeks or months. These are projects which last throughout many years. The northern part of Hong Kong Island in terms of reclamation, in terms of projects to solve the transport problem, dated back to the 1980s. We have got many stages of reclamation being implemented over tens of years. And we have seen the completion of the earlier phases of those reclamation plans back in the 1980s. And on those reclamations we've got highways coming down and you can clearly see that there is a missing link in between. It has always been meant to be completed as a last phase of one comprehensive scheme. So we are not talking about an individual scheme here. We are talking about a comprehensive scheme which started a long time ago. And so to answer your question, yes we have considered other alternatives, but given the historical perspective, as I mentioned, we have come around to the conclusion that the best way forward in solving our transport problem for now is to complete a project which started a long time ago.
Reporter: Judgment is going to affect all reclamation projects in Victoria Harbour. You've commented on Wan Chai and Central. What about the rest of the projects? How about Southeast Kowloon?
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands: We have publicly said that currently there are no plans for any more harbour reclamation apart from the two you mentioned. And the third one, which is occasioned by the removal of the airport in Southeast Kowloon, that we have also put on hold. We have already instructed the Town Planning Board to subject itself to the latest ruling arising from the original High Court judgment. And now we got this judgment from the Court of Final Appeal, we will, of course, have to satisfy the criteria as laid down in this particular judgment for the planning of any reclamation in Southeast Kowloon. Apart from that, as I said, we don't have any more plans for any reclamation in the harbour. And in order to ease public concern about whether we will proceed with other plans which we have previously suggested and which we have not completely removed from some other town plans, we are going to do a trawl to make sure that any reclamation works which has been proposed in the past and which we have said that we are not going to proceed with, we will delete that from the relevant town plans.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript)
Ends/Friday, January 9, 2004