LCQ20: Rural Public Works Programme

     Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (November 22):

     The Government implemented the Rural Planning & Improvement Strategy Minor Works Programme in the 90s of the last century to facilitate the development of infrastructures in and the improvement of the living environment of villages in the New Territories. The Programme was replaced by the Rural Public Works Programme (RPWP) in 2000. Quite a number of villagers have relayed to me that the works carried out under RPWP are comparatively small in scale and thus are of limited benefits. They have pointed out that in focusing on implementing various large scale infrastructure projects in the New Territories in recent years, the Government has neglected the improvement of infrastructures in the rural areas, rendering the living environment of villagers remains to be improved.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the total number of works projects with funding approved under RPWP since
its inception and the total amount of funding involved;

(2) of the number of works projects with funding approved in the past five years,
broken down by (i) the District Working Group concerned and (ii) works category; the locations of the works sites and the average amount of funding approved for each works project;

(3) given that the Chief Executive has indicated in the Policy Address recently
delivered by her that a Countryside Conservation Office will be established to promote sustainable development of remote countryside and that $1 billion has been earmarked for implementing the relevant conservation efforts and revitalisation works, whether the funding will be used to carry out improvement works projects on village infrastructures; if so, of the types of works projects to be included, as well as the relevant application as well as vetting and approval procedures;

(4) whether the Rural Planning & Improvement Strategy Minor Works Programme
will be reinstated in order that works projects of a larger scale and greater benefits can be carried out in villages; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons and the considerations for that; and

(5) whether it has drawn up mid-term and long-term strategic plans for improving the rural environment?



     After consulting the Environment Bureau (ENB), our reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) The Rural Public Works (RPW) Programme was launched by the Home Affairs Department (HAD) in 1999. As at October 2017, more than 2 310 numbers of RPW projects, with approved project estimates totalling $2.39 billion, have been approved. 

(2) The number of projects and approved projects estimates as approved by the RPW Programme Steering Committee in the past five years, breakdown by district, is at Annex.

     The project types of the approved RPW projects are as follows:

- Construction or improvement of footpath/footbridge;
- Construction or improvement of van track/access road/footpath;
- Construction or improvement of rainshelter/pavilion;
- Beautification works;
- Provision or improvement of drainage facilities;
- Paving works; and
- Others (provision of notice boards, improvement of environmental hygiene conditions, grass cutting, etc).

     As a project may involve more than one type of works, HAD does not keep statistics nor the average amount of funding approved by project types.

(3) ENB states that in the 2017 Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced that a Countryside Conservation Office (CCO) would be established under the Environmental Protection Department to co-ordinate conservation projects that promote sustainable development of remote countryside. A sum of $1 billion has been earmarked for CCO and other institutions such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to carry out relevant minor improvement works and sustain their preservation and revitalisation efforts.

     For minor improvement works, CCO will consider the implementation of suitable minor improvement works for public facilities, such as providing or improving roads, street lightings, public toilets, sewage collection and treatment facilities, as well as waste recycling and treatment facilities.  Existing architectural environment like representative village houses in the countryside will also be rehabilitated.

     On the preservation and revitalisation fronts, CCO will co-ordinate the efforts of the departments concerned, and provide an integrated yet dedicated mechanism with resources for the conservation and sustainable development of the countryside in the long run. The objectives are to support NGOs and villagers in organising diversified and innovative conservation activities on an interactive and collaborative basis, and to develop eco-tourism and other sustainable economic activities where appropriate.

     ENB will set up an advisory committee with members including non-government stakeholders to examine applications made by NGOs and monitor the implementation of approved projects and proposals. The advisory committee is expected to be established in the second half of 2018, and the funding concerned will then be open to application from NGOs.

(4) HAD has implemented the RPW Programme since 1999. The Programme aims to flexibly and promptly implement minor works projects without involving any land resumption, with a view to addressing the needs of the local residents for improving the infrastructure and living environment in rural areas.  During the implementation of the Rural Planning and Improvement Strategy Minor Works Programme in the past, the time required for project implementation was usually substantially prolonged if land resumption was involved.  If the RPW Programme were to carry out projects involving land resumption, the time required for project implementation would be substantially prolonged, and hence run contrary to the aim of the Programme.

     The progress of the RPW Programme is good, with over 100 projects completed every year on average. These projects have substantially upgraded the infrastructure and improved the living environment in the rural areas. HAD has no plan to implement minor works programme involving land resumption element.

     For major works projects requiring land resumption, District Officers will refer the cases to the appropriate departments for follow up actions under the Public Works Programme.

(5) ENB states that CCO will co-ordinate conservation projects that promote sustainable development of remote countryside. Depending on factors such as the effectiveness of the initiative and stakeholders' views, the Government will consider extending the initiative progressively to other remote countryside areas with conservation value.

     HAD will continue to implement the RPW Programme under the annual provision of the Capital Works Reserve Fund to carry out various types of minor works projects to improve the infrastructure and living environment of the rural areas in the nine districts in the New Territories.

Ends/Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:09