Skip to main content

Open Letters and Documents

Letter dated 2 April 2004 sent to the South China Morning Post

The Legitimacy of Central Reclamation Phase III

Despite the High Court judgment handed down on March 9, 2004 refusing the Society for Protection of the Harbour's application for judicial review in relation to the Central Reclamation, there remains doubts on whether the reclamation is necessary or lawful. It is incumbent upon the Administration to address any lingering doubts as we have been doing so over the past months.

Central Reclamation Phase III is a major infrastructure project designed, approved and funded to meet essential transport needs. That due process of scrutiny supported by extensive public consultations had lasted for five years before the project commenced in February 2003. Even the Society is not apparently challenging the need for some reclamation to accommodate the roads, the question is the extent of the reclamation. Indeed, as a result of the public consultations and objections received during the process of taking forward the Central reclamation, including an objection made by the Society, the area of reclamation has been reduced by almost fifty percent, from 32 to 18 hectares.

The 18 hectares of reclamation supported by a comprehensive engineering feasibility study is the minimum reclamation option accepted by many of the original objectors. This extent of reclamation in Central was reflected in the Central District (Extension) Outline Zoning Plan approved by the Chief Executive in Council on February 22, 2000. This approved Plan was subsequently amended a few times to reflect other changes, the last one in December 2002. Other than incorporating the piers to be reprovisioned, the Plan approved in December 2002 has not altered the extent of reclamation. It is therefore misleading for one to suggest that the government rushed into approving the reclamation plan in Central to forestall the Society's application for judicial review which was not filed until February 2003 and which, in any case, was related to the draft Wan Chai Reclamation, not Central.

Some key dates concerning CRIII will help to put the above beyond doubt:

  • The 18 hectares minimum reclamation was approved by CE in C on February 22, 2000;
  • Funding for the detailed design and tender preparation of CRIII was approved by LegCo on April 28, 2000;
  • Environmental Impact Assessment report on CRIII was approved by the Director of Environmental Protection on advice of the Advisory Council on the Environment on August 31, 2001;
  • CRIII's reclamation and roadworks were authorized by CE in C under the Foreshore and Sea-bed (Reclamation) Ordinance and Road (Works, Use and Compensation) Ordinance respectively on December 18, 2001;
  • Funding for construction of CRIII was approved by LegCo on June 21, 2002;
  • Tenders for CRIII were invited on August 12, 2002 and contract was awarded on February 10, 2003.

It should therefore be clear that the award of the CRIII contract followed its own programme. It is untrue to suggest that the government "rushed" or "prematurely" entering into a binding contract in order to present a "fait accompli" on the Central Reclamation.

More importantly, the judicial proceedings initiated in the early part of 2003 were concerning the draft Wan Chai Reclamation. It was not until September 2003, half a year after commencement of CRIII works, that the Society sought to apply for judicial review on the Central Reclamation.

In commenting on the Society's argument that the government rushed to conclude contracts for CRIII works and therefore has only itself to blame for any financial ramifications, Judge Hartmann in his judgment handed down on March 9, 2004 said,"the executive cannot always bow to the pressure of threatened litigation and it is always a question of policy whether an approved plan should be fulfilled without delay or whether delay is prudent."

Unless and until set aside by the Court, the Central OZP and the CRIII works are lawful. As Judge Hartmann puts it, "our law makers have given to the Chief Executive in Council clear executive jurisdiction in respect of town planning matters". The Central OZP is an approved Plan. The High Court judgment has reconfirmed that the power to revoke an approved plan or to seek amendment rests entirely with the CE in C. In deciding that there was no need to revoke or amend the approved Central Plan taking all factors into account, the CE in C was exercising his power under section 12 of the Town Planning Ordinance and was acting lawfully and reasonably. With a lawful plan, it is clearly in the interest of good administration to seek to implement it without delay.

It has been argued that CRIII and the Wan Chai Phase II are one project and the former should not proceed when the latter is subject to review. In reality, CRIII and Wan Chai II are the final phases of a scheme that comprises five phases. Planning exercise takes time and project implementation proceeds in phases. Much of CRIII is a continuation of CRI. For example, the existing 84 metres of Overrun Tunnel for the Airport Railway and Tung Chung Line were provided under CRI with the understanding that an extension will be provided under CRIII to enable these rail lines to operate safely at their design capacity. And a network of surface roads, known as Road P2, is needed to take traffic from the Hong Kong Station and the vicinity to Wan Chai North without overloading existing roads in Central. CRIII should therefore proceed without further delay.

Does CRIII meet the "three tests" laid down in the High Court judgment and the subsequent single "overriding public need test" of the Court of Final Appeal in place of the "three tests"? The answer is yes. The government has completed two reviews which show that based on cogent and convincing materials, there is a compelling and present need for the essential transport infrastructure, there are no reasonable alternatives and the extent of reclamation is the minimum. These conclusions are supported by independent experts. In coming to a decision on the matter, the CE in C has and will have before him such materials as well as a broad range of administrative and policy issues for consideration.

Turning to the extent of reclamation, the misconception of the government reclaiming an additional 5.1 hectares for sale for commercial development must be cleared. The extent of reclamation within CRIII is dictated by the Central - Wan Chai Bypass and the essential waterfront facilities such as piers and water cooling pumping stations that need to be reprovisioned. Neither is there any basis for an allegation that we have reclaimed an extra one million square feet (equivalent to about 10 hectares) which are not needed. The engineering review mentioned above which can be accessed from our website ( provides the needed clarification.

The fact is since the Bypass is mainly underground this provides an opportunity for the Town Planning Board to draw up plans for use of the reclaimed land to promote "the health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the community." Land use and the purpose of reclamation must not be confused in the present case. Put simply, the 18 hectares will still be required if no land is zoned for commercial use at all.

In reality, based on the approved Central OZP, half of the reclaimed land (i.e. 9 hectares) is zoned for open space to create a traffic-free waterfront promenade for the enjoyment of the community. The 5.1 hectares of land for commercial use comprises 2.5 hectares for low-rise waterfront related commercial and leisure facilities such as festival markets, cafes, restaurants and retail shops. The remaining 2.6 hectares is part of a site zoned Comprehensive Development Area with low-rise pedestrian landscape deck on the east and a "groundscraper" on the west. There is no worry that these will be turned into high-rise high density commercial developments as height restrictions (for example, maximum height of the pedestrian deck is 2 storeys while that for the "groundscraper" is 10 storeys) are imposed in the statutory plan. On the contrary, these limited commercial developments are designed to provide a compatible environment with the Central Business District and a vibrant Central waterfront.

Hong Kong has a proud record of delivering major infrastructure to meet our social, economic and environmental needs. It is only prudent and responsible that with a lawful plan and a binding contract, good administration should seek to avoid delay. Now is the time to move on with CRIII.

Mrs Carrie Lam
Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands (Planning and Lands)