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Open Letters and Documents

Open Letter "Join Hands in Creating a New Harbour" from the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen

Join Hands in Creating a New Harbour within the Bounds of Law

  1. Following the Court of Final Appeal's judgment on the litigation between the Town Planning Board and the Society for the Protection of the Harbour over Wan Chai North reclamation, the community's focus has again shifted to Central reclamation. Some members of the community remain opposed to the reclamation, and I do understand their feelings.
  2. Like every citizen of Hong Kong, I have a special passion for the Victoria Harbour. As mentioned in the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance and the judgment of the Court of Final Appeal, the harbour is a special public asset and a natural heritage of the people of Hong Kong. It enjoys a unique legal status and must be protected and preserved. Although the present harbour is not quite the same as when I was a child, its special status has never changed. Like everyone else in Hong Kong, I will do whatever I can to protect it and preserve it so that future generations can enjoy it forever.
  3. As a Principal Official, I have a duty to listen to the public and work for the best interests of the community. Reclamation became a matter of intense public concern in the middle of last year. Since then, I have stated time and again that the Government is committed to protecting and preserving the harbour. As a matter of fact, Central reclamation and the proposed Wan Chai North and South East Kowloon reclamations are the remaining portions of reclamation in the harbour. However, some people still find it unacceptable that we have not yet abandoned the reclamation works in Central. I cannot but ask myself whether we have failed to do what the public want.
  4. Gone are the days when harbour reclamation was carried out to overcome land shortage for the purpose of economic development. As pointed out in the Court of Final Appeal's judgment, reclamation must meet "overriding public need". This single test has replaced the three tests previously laid down by the High Court. According to the judgment, "public need" includes the economic, environmental and social needs of the community. The judgment has also pointed out that the presumption against reclamation under the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance can only be rebutted when there are no other reasonable alternatives to meet such needs.
  5. The reclamation now underway in Central is one of the last two phases of the Central and Wan Chai reclamation which commenced in the 1990s. Upon the completion of the two reclamation projects in Central and Wan Chai North, the whole reclamation will come to an end, and there will be no further reclamation along the northern shores of Hong Kong Island. The third phase of Central Reclamation, which we need to handle now, was first proposed in 1998. Five years have already passed since its works started in February last year. In the light of the objections received, the Government has reduced the scale of reclamation from the originally proposed 32 hectares to the minimum reclamation option covering only 18 hectares.
  6. In July last year, the High Court laid down three tests in its judgment relating to Wan Chai North reclamation. The Government has subsequently conducted a comprehensive review of Central reclamation, which indicated that the project meets the three tests. The findings of our review were supported by Professor Y S Li, Head of the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering and Chair Professor of Coastal and Environmental Engineering of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. In November last year, we submitted the review report to the Legislative Council's Panel on Planning, Lands and Works and Panel on Environmental Affairs. The review report is available for public inspection.
  7. We will now ascertain whether Central reclamation meets the new requirement laid down by the Court of Final Appeal. We will also study the economic, environmental and social implications of the alternative proposals received so far. We will examine the cost and delay that these alternatives may incur and see whether any of them can replace reclamation.
  8. In September last year, the Society for the Protection of the Harbour sought a judicial review in respect of Central reclamation. The case will be heard in the High Court on 9 February. We will continue to suspend the scheduled marine piling and reclamation works until the legal proceedings have taken their course. I wish to reiterate that the Government adheres to the rule of law. We will handle the reclamation in Central in accordance with the decision of the court.
  9. The Court of Final Appeal has given a clear and final interpretation of the law. This will remove the community's doubts over reclamation. We will review the remaining reclamation in Wan Chai North and South East Kowloon against the single test laid down by the court. We will work out a set of clear operational guidelines on reclamation in compliance with the law and the court judgment.
  10. The challenge ahead is how we can, in the process of planning and developing the harbour, beautify it to achieve greater harmony for the people of Hong Kong. I sincerely hope that the community will understand the Government's commitment to protecting and preserving the harbour, put aside differences and join us in creating a new look for our harbour.

Michael M Y Suen
Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands