Urban Design in Hong Kong (Sep 2001)

The total built environment of Hong Kong is a public asset and the quality of our city affects our civic pride, quality of life and the image of Hong Kong as a world-class city.  Good urban design can ensure Hong Kong to retain its attractiveness and visual appeals, as well as protect our heritage and history. It will strengthen our civic identity and local characters, and to provide accessible and comfortable public spaces for the people.

The Hong Kong Institute of Planners (HKIP) believes that Hong Kong needs to adopt a policy on urban design or an Urban Design Strategy which promotes good practices both in public space and private development.  It is recognized that there is no generalized and standard solutions for specific urban design proposals.  In order to ensure wider community support, multi-disciplinary professional involvement and public participation in the planning and implementation of the Urban Design Strategy should be promoted.

This holistic approach should respect statutory development right but should also be enforceable.  While urban design guidelines could be advisory in nature in general, mandatory guidelines must be established for specific areas in Hong Kong.  Moreover, we also believe that a 'carrot and stick' approach with statutory regulations and development incentives working together is required to ensure the effective implementation of the urban design strategy.

Preservation of Views to Ridgelines and Peaks

The ridgelines around the urban areas in our city is our precious natural asset and has created a unique identify for Hong Kong. Views to the ridgelines and the peaks from the urban area should be protected. 

While we acknowledge that the protection of all the views to the ridgelines is not practicable, we support the use of selected vantage points as proposed by the Government to define the view corridors to be protected. The proposed 20% Building Free Zone is acceptable provided that flexibility for relaxation on merits is allowed. Building height control does not equate with loss of development density and the existing plot ratios of the sites affected should be protected.  We also support the proposal to promote the southern tip of Kowloon as the High Rise Landmark Node for Hong Kong.

The use of regulatory measures to limit building height in selected areas as a tool to protect the views is an effective approach.  These could be implemented under the Town Planning Ordinance.

Waterfront Development

The waterfront areas around our beautiful harbour are our assets. These areas should be subject to special design consideration. We urge the Government to amend the Town Planning Ordinance to enable designation of these areas as Special Design Areas (SDAs) in the Outline Zoning Plans. Development proposals located within the SDAs will need to submit urban design concepts and plans to the Town Planning Board for approval.  The Government should also initiate design competitions for all the key public open spaces, civic buildings and public facilities such as the proposed cruise terminal and stadium, in order to achieve the best design for these landmark sites.

The Town Planning Board has previously issued the 'Vision and Goals of Victoria Harbour' which has received great support from the community.  However, it will be very difficult to achieve the vision based on the existing institutional framework, which is characterized, by diverse jurisdictions and sometimes conflicting interests over our waterfront. 

We therefore believe that in addition to statutory urban design control and design competitions, a new mechanism or agency is needed to co-ordinate detailed planning, design and implementation of the waterfront lands, manage the public spaces and programme activities, and promote the waterfront both to the people of Hong Kong and also to the international visitors.

Public Pedestrian Environment

Our public spaces are important components of our total built environment. They encompass a wide variety of elements such as the streets, parks, amenity areas, footbridges, as well as street furniture like railings, paving, light standards, walls, trees and signs.  The design and maintenance of these elements fall under the jurisdictions of many different bodies including the private owners and different government departments.  The qualities of the public spaces in Hong Kong vary tremendously.

We recommend the Government to initiate a series of comprehensive Streetscape Improvement Projects in selected areas, in conjunction with the local District Councils, to improve the quality of key public spaces and strengthen the local characters of our neighbourhoods.  Areas around important heritage buildings should also be considered as sites for the projects.  The Government should consider setting up multi-disciplinary urban design teams to work in partnership with local District Councils to lead these projects. Specific funds should be set aside for the projects. In so doing, the Government should promote the use of non-standard design details and street furniture, and to invite ideas from the design professionals as well as the public through competitions.

Cityscape and Heritage

We recommend the Government to adopt a proactive policy to enhance the quality of our cityscape and to protect our built heritage through incentives. 

On private properties, the Government should encourage the dedication of land to develop public open space networks and to conserve our built heritage through a policy on density transfer and development bonus incentives.  The Government should consider providing grants to owners of buildings of significant heritage, cultural or architectural value to carry out improvement works. The owners in turn will promise to protect and maintain the buildings or structures on agreed guidelines.

For selected landmark sites, we would recommend the Government to introduce urban design proposals as one of the assessment criteria for land disposal, in addition to land premium.  We also urge the Government to call for private sector proposals for the re-use of the existing heritage buildings under Government ownerships. This will encourage the creative re-use of these valuable assets, and make sure that they can be sustainable maintained based on heritage conservation guidelines.

The Roles of the Town Planning Board

As mentioned above, we believe the urban design strategy for Hong Kong can best be implemented and enforced through the Town Planning Board (TPB) based on the Town Planning Ordinance. The Board comprises representation from the various sectors of the community and has established public trust in fulfilling its roles.

Based on further area specific planning studies, the urban design guidelines should be translated into specific parameters and incorporated into the relevant OZPs. Implementing urban design control using the OZPs allows for public participation throughout the plan making process. The existing development densities and plot ratios should be protected. Flexibility should also be provided for relaxation through applications to the Board for approval.

The HKIP also suggests the Government to enhance the opportunities for wider public participation in the planning process.  The planning studies leading to any OZP amendments should be published for the public to make comments. The public should be allowed to comment on the planning applications located within the SDAs where urban design is a key planning consideration.  These suggestions are in line with the principles of the Government in its Report on Public Consultation on the Town Planning Bill dated January 2000.

We recommend the setting up of an Urban Design Committee under the Board to handle the urban design matters specifically. The Committee could co-opt additional members from the professionals and the public to assist its functioning.

Conclusion

In summary, we would like to recommend the Government to adopt a 12-point Urban Design Action Plan for Hong Kong as follows:

 

1.             Formulate and adopt a policy on urban design for Hong Kong in the form of an Urban Design Strategy.

2.             Promote multi-disciplinary professional involvement and public participation in the planning and implementation of the Urban Design Strategy.

3.             Implement the strategy through both the statutory control over specific areas in Hong Kong, as well as the use of advisory guidelines. Implement the statutory control through the Town Planning Ordinance, and if required, by amendment to effect the control. For selected parts of Hong Kong, translate the proposed urban design guidelines into specific parameters and incorporate them into the relevant statutory Outline Zoning Plans for implementation.

4.             Designate the waterfront around the Victoria Harbour and other special areas in Hong Kong as Special Design Areas (SDAs) in the OZPs. The zoning would require the development proponents to submit urban design plans for approval by the Town Planning Board.

5.             Enhance the opportunities for wider public participation in the planning process.  The planning studies leading to any OZP amendments should be published for the public to make comments. The public should be allowed to comment on the planning applications located within the SDAs where urban design is a key planning consideration.

6.             Identify and implement a series of comprehensive local Streetscape Improvement Projects to improve the quality of key public spaces and strengthen the local characters of the areas around important heritage buildings. Set up multi-disciplinary urban design teams to work in partnership with local District Councils to lead these projects.

7.             Include urban design proposals as one of the criteria for land sales for selected landmark sites, apart from land premium consideration.

8.             Adopt a policy of providing development incentives to achieve urban design objectives on privately owned properties.

9.             Allow for density transfer and development bonus for the landowners in return for achieving urban design objectives such as heritage conservation and open space provision in selected areas.

10.         Encourage private sector participation and call for proposals for the re-use of heritage buildings/sites under Government ownership.

11.         Provide Heritage Improvement Grant for owners of buildings of heritage, cultural or architectural value to encourage the carrying out of improvement works.

12.       Over the process of implementing the Urban Design Strategy, protect existing development right and plot ratios.

 

Public Affairs Committee
Hong Kong Institute of Planners
5 September 2001

HKIP TEST