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LCQ6: East Wing Forecourt of Central Government Offices

     Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (October 22):

Question :

     In July this year, the Government erected, on grounds of security enhancement, a perimeter fence at the East Wing Forecourt of the Central Government Offices (CGO) at Tamar, commonly known as "the civic square" (the square).  A number of Members of this Council met with officials of the Administration Wing in early August for the matter and received Administration Wing's written undertaking that "when the works on the perimeter fence are completed, members of the public visiting CGO or the Legislative Council (LegCo) daily will not be affected and they will still have access to the East Wing Forecourt as usual.  This is roughly in line with the arrangement, put in place upon the commissioning of the new CGO, for the public using the East Wing Forecourt as a passageway". However, the Government has implemented since late last month access control measures at the square, under which only staff of CGO, LegCo Members and personnel holding relevant permits issued by the LegCo Secretariat are given access to the square.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has assessed if the Administration Wing's implementation of the aforesaid access control measures at the square constitutes a breach of the undertaking that members of the public will still have access to the square as usual upon erection of the perimeter fence, and if this has deprived the public of their right to use the square;

(b) of the detailed justifications for the Government implementing the aforesaid access control measures at the square; whether those measures are temporary in nature; if so, when such measures are planned to be lifted; and

(c) of the criteria adopted by the Government for determining when access control measures should be implemented at the square?



     Before responding to the specific points raised in the question, I would like to give a brief account of the planning and use of land in respect of the East Wing Forecourt (the Forecourt) of the Central Government Offices (CGO) to illustrate that the assertion made by Hon Alan Leong in the question that the Forecourt is a square available for public use is incorrect.

     With an area of 4.2 hectares, Tamar is a comprehensive development project covering the current CGO, the Chief Executive's Office (CE's Office), the Legislative Council Complex (the LegCo Complex) and the Tamar Park.  The site of this development project was allocated to the Director of Administration by way of Permanent Government Land Allocation.  In accordance with clause 2 of the Engineering Conditions for the land allocation, the allocatee is required to provide within the site not less than 20 000 square metres of public open space.

     As indicated in the planning permission granted by the Town Planning Board based on the final design submitted by the project contractor, the project provides a public open space of 21 020 square metres spreading over the areas zoned "Government, Institution or Community (4)" (G/IC(4)) and "Open Space" ("O" Zone) on the Central District (Extension) Outline Zoning Plan.  The Forecourt is not part of this 21 020 square metres of public open space.  Nor has it ever been included in the calculation of the public open space of 20 000 square metres as stipulated in the land allocation conditions.  Forming part of the CGO, the Forecourt is an open area comprising a vehicular driveway, a flagstaff platform and two connected pedestrian walkways.  It is used primarily as vehicular access for the CGO and a pick up/drop off point for passengers.  It also serves as a pedestrian passageway for members of the public visiting the CGO and the adjacent LegCo Complex.  Visitors may reach the Forecourt by taking the escalator from the elevated walkway linking the Admiralty Centre and the CITIC Tower on the podium level, or get there directly from Tim Mei Avenue or the LegCo Complex on the ground level.

     My reply to various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The new CGO and the CE's Office are critical Government facilities where most of the SAR Government's major policy-making authorities and relevant officials conduct their business.  There should be appropriate security facilities for the office buildings and the surrounding area to ensure normal operation of the Government.  Since the commissioning of the new CGO, the Government has kept under review the security facilities of the buildings and the related operational arrangements.  According to the outcome of the review, there is a need for strengthening the security infrastructure along the periphery of the buildings, including the erection of a perimeter fence, so as to augment the overall defence capability and to bring the security facilities at the East Wing on par with those at the West Wing.

     I would like to reiterate that the Forecourt forms part of the CGO and is a government property held by the Administration Wing.  It is neither a public place nor a public open space; in other words, the public do not have an absolute right of free access to it.  The Forecourt has been primarily used as a vehicular access for the CGO and a pick up/drop off point for passengers, and it is open for public use on weekdays mainly as a passageway.  According to the legal advice of the Department of Justice, members of the public using the Forecourt as a passageway (such as those visiting the CGO or the LegCo Complex) are regarded as "licensees".  The Director of Administration, as the land allocatee and lawful occupier, has the legal right and responsibility to exercise appropriate control and restriction on the use of the Forecourt, having regard to the security and actual operational needs.  For instance, public access to the Forecourt may have to be suspended during normal opening hours in case of emergency or when there are special security needs.  However, LegCo Members and personnel holding valid staff identity cards/media permits issued by the CGO or LegCo, as far as circumstances permit, can continue to use the Forecourt as a passageway.  The above-mentioned access control measures based on security concerns do not go against the undertaking of making available a normal daily access to the Forecourt for members of the public.

(b) and (c) The Forecourt was re-opened for use on September 10 upon completion of erection of a perimeter fence.  Since mid-September, there were incidents of protesters attempting to force their way into the Forecourt for assemblies or petitions on September 13 and 15 respectively (both happened to be a working day).  Staff of the Administration Wing had repeatedly explained to the persons concerned the established procedures of application for holding a public meeting at the Forecourt, i.e. public meeting/procession at the Forecourt would only be permitted on Sundays and public holidays from 10am to 6.30pm upon prior written application to and the approval of the Director of Administration.  Furthermore, a section of the pavement on Tim Mei Avenue outside the Forecourt is a designated public activity area for public meetings/petitions at all times.  Given that the explanation was not accepted by the people on the scene, the Administration Wing, in consideration of the prevailing security risks, decided to temporarily close the Forecourt and take short-term access control measures.  Furthermore, in view of the large-scale public meetings and demonstrations outside the CGO in the week following September 22, the Administration Wing again had to temporarily close the Forecourt and implement access control measures for security reasons.  Except for LegCo Members and personnel holding valid staff identity cards/media permits issued by the CGO or LegCo, public access to the Forecourt was suspended.  Being temporary in nature, all such measures lasted for a few hours to a whole day.

     On September 26, some protesters forced their way into the Forecourt and stayed there.  A large group of protesters continued to gather outside the CGO, some of whom stated that they were going to occupy the Forecourt.  In view of the exceptional circumstances, the Government had to further implement a series of temporary measures to enhance the security of the CGO, including the closure of the Public Entrance and Press Entrance on the Ground Floor of the East Wing.  The Forecourt was to remain closed until further notice.  In the meantime, all visitors are not allowed to enter the Forecourt without the Government's permission.

     The above control measures are only temporary.  The Administration Wing shall, through maintaining contact with the Police from time to time, continue to conduct risk assessment as to when the Forecourt may be re-opened for normal operation, taking into account the actual circumstances, such as whether there is still a large group of protesters gathering outside the CGO and in its vicinity.

Ends/Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Issued at HKT 13:39


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