Review and Update of the Railway Development Strategy 2000 (July 2012)

HKIP-PAC-Future Railways.pdf

Comments of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners (HKIP) on Highways Department’s “Our Future Railway - Review of the `Railway Development Strategy (RDS) 2000’”– public consultation on its `Stage 1 study findings and major regional railway corridors’

1. In general, as the consultation document is intended to address and to find ways forward with respect to such major regional and strategic infrastructure projects, it evidently should only be undertaken in a strategic urban planning context. We accordingly have a number of strategic planning points to make with regard to the document rather than wishing to delve into the design details at this stage. 

2. The population forecast and demographic profile quoted in the presentation materials appear to be based on reports in 2011 or in any case before the Census 2011 was completed. The consultation began in April 2012 - while the 2011 Census has been completed and a Summary Report of its findings (findings are not equal to forecasts) was issued in February 2012, more work has yet to be done on revisiting the government’s previous thematic forecasts based on such findings. Population distribution and forecast would also likely be affected by the supply and availability of affordable accommodation units, apart from other factors, and these will be further affected by land supply. All or most of these factors might change substantially under the new administration’s new policies after July 2012.

3. Although the Review makes reference to the “HK 2030 Planning Vision and Strategy” with respect to “Key Developments and Redevelopment Areas”, it still appears to be lacking substantially in strategic planning context. It should be pointed out that HK2030 was completed in 2007, which is already some 5 years ago. HK2030 itself should also be reviewed in view of new regional development considerations. The present RDS review is only asking the consultees what they think, instead of presenting the public with adequate background information and some co-ordinated multi-disciplinary thinking from Government. 

4. We suggest that a proper review should be made, by taking into account the latest developments across the boundary as well as the strategic roles of the NWNT and NENT in the Territory. It should also cover the land requirements for public and private housing, commerce and industries and the rising public aspiration for a better quality living environment with low carbon living. Needless to say, it should take into account the latest circumstances and imminent need of the Administration to release more land to meet the pressing housing need. The potential areas needed to be studied first and foremost are as follows.

4.1 Whilst 2nd stage Community Engagement of the “Hung Shui Kiu NDA Planning and Engineering Study” is going to commence only in the 4th Quarter of 2012, it is suggested that a review should be made on what alternative or additional role Hung Shui Kiu should take up, apart from its present role as an “NDA” (for 160,000 population and 48,000 employment opportunities), vis-à-vis the China’s State Council’s recently released policies concerning the Development and Opening-up of Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Services Cooperation Zone, such as the likely establishment of international or national management headquarters or business operation headquarters by Hong Kong and other onshore and offshore financial institutions on the Qian hai side and /or supporting facilities on the NWNT side.

4.2 As the Study area of the HSK Study is much wider (790 ha) than the original HSK NDA development area (450ha), the land use implications in the much wider environs of HSK may need to be further reviewed as well, including such areas as the Tuen Mun-Yuen Long Corridor linking to Yuen Long South and to Lam Tei and Yick Yuen to its west. How the development potential and subsequent traffic and transport requirements of such a vast area may have on the future railway network cannot be ignored or under estimated.

4.3 Apart from Hung Shui Kiu, other strategic growth areas (SGA), and “3-in-1” NDA at Kwu Tung North and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling, once recommended in the HK 2030, and others examined but not selected as NDAs, may also need to be further reviewed (viz. Kam Tin, Au Tau, Ngau Tam Mei, San Tin and Kwu Tung South). 

5. On the whole, we are of the view that the review and updating of railway development strategy must go hand-in-hand with the future land use planning in the Territory, in particular the NWNT and new SGAs in the NT.

6. The Review raises questions about the density of development associated with the stations. It is clear that the public rightly expects that the station sites should not be developed into “walled buildings”. We wish to recall for your reference what HK2030 (para. 13.4.30 of its Final Report) said, in addressing “Good Land Use Planning” . It reads : “… … To encourage wider use of rail, we would encourage a development pattern with more development around the rail stations. This should be complemented by a feeder network of pedestrian and cycling paths as well as inter-modal changing facilities to enlarge the catchments of the rail stations. Moreover, the planning for mixed-use (“home-cum-work”) developments/areas could help to reduce trip demand and relieve congestion in the peak-flow direction.” In a nut-shell, urban form, economic use of the land resources as well as quality of the environment are all relevant considerations. Examples in other countries such as Singapore show that high-rise /higher density development at transportation hubs is being explored so as to meet the pressing need of housing demand on the one hand while keeping areas worthy of preservation such as heritage or conservation sites with low density/low rise development. However, there is no hard and fast rule that high-rise or higher density development at station sites should not be encouraged. High density development does not mean the necessary sacrifice of a good layout and a good design. Each site should be assessed on its individual merits.

7. HK2030 Final Report para. 13.4.31 also pointed out that : “… … overall speaking, decentralisation of employment-generating land uses could help to address some of our traffic problems. At present, some 77% of our employment is concentrated in the … . This necessitates long journeys to work and exerts heavy pressure on our domestic transport network, especially the cross-harbour routes. Apart from pursuing more rail-based developments, we should aim to, through various planning measures, bring more jobs to Kowloon and New Territories, in order to minimise traffic generation. For a start, relocating some of the current government offices to Kowloon or the New Territories could be considered.” It can be seen that a review of the strategic railway lines and the form of development associated with station sites along the lines would necessitate a comprehensive review involving inputs from land use planning, land policy and economic policy with respect to distribution of employment locally as well as across the boundary. In addition, the viability of individual rail lines being considered would also depend on competition from other modes of public transport. Without the context of transport policy and environmental policy, the value of the present consultation is extremely questionable.

8. A review of the rail line in a context of the whole railway network, and in fact the whole network of public transport facilities, is necessary for reasons of their competition and synergy effects. However, the review only singles out three lines in consulting the public. With regard to these lines, we have the following comments. (Points 9-11) 

9. With respect to the linkage of North Lantau link, the Review has placed a lot of emphasis on the connection to Shenzhen. Because of uncertainties in aviation policy and regional development, a decision is unlikely be forthcoming soon. The question posed to the public appears to be a leading question. In fact, residents in North Lantau are anxious to find a more affordable way of access to the Metro area itself. Linking to Tuen Mun may not be an answer, as residents there also desire a link to the Metro area. That is why the third line (TM to TW line) is being raised in this Review.

10. The “Northern Link” connecting NOL via Kwu Tung North is supported for reasons of flexible services, rather than because of Kwu Tung North itself which would only have a planned population of 65,000. The Review poses questions regarding San Tin, Au Tau and Ngau Tam Mei as they were not identified as NDAs under HK2030. The Review should perhaps involve land use planning and a review of HK2030 first, and should also take into account possible new housing and land supply initiatives under the new administration. Irrespective of this, NOL should perhaps proceed if the East Rail has a congestion problem that needs to be relieved. 

11. From illustrations shown to the consultees at the presentation, the Coastal Railway between Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan (The Tuen Mun to Tsuen Wan Link) proposal, with massive overhead structures and viaducts, appears to be very unsightly and intrusive. The link would have a negative impact on large stretches of the scenic coastal areas of the New Territories, apart from impacting on nearby developments at specific locations. In view of this type of development form, the proposal is not supported. Again, Highways Department should find out what the fundamental requirements are in seeking a heavy rail link to Tuen Mun. Tuen Mun needs more economic, employment opportunities and development while the new town has accommodated many locally unwelcome but essential public utility facilities. This requires innovative solutions to revitalise the local economy and in so doing to reduce the need to commute to the Metro area and the urgency of the need for a heavy rail. If the report wishes to justify the proposal of this link, it should also convince the consultees how it could be done without creating visual and landscape impacts to the surroundings. 

12. In passing it is noted that recently Government has actively promoted a monorail proposal with a view to energising Kowloon East. Whilst we do not believe that a monorail is necessarily the right solution, and that a light rail or modern tramway system linking Kai Tak, Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay areas should also be investigated, the RDS Review should also take similar initiatives into account to explore and elaborate the concept which have similar underlying intentions of re-vitalising certain districts. 

13. It appears from the total network so far given and the proposed links under consultation that, there appears to be a shortage of more direct links and interchanges between the eastern part of Kowloon and its western part, and also between the eastern part of the NT and the western part. Most of the interchanges concentrate at the Tsuen Wan Line and Kwun Tong Line stations of Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei and Prince Edward. Connectivity is one of the basic parameters that the Review is tasked with, and the issue of interchanges need to be covered.

14. To quote just one leading question that the Review asks (with respect to the distribution and scale of the various key development and redevelopment areas) “ … … .the development potentials of the stations, depots and surrounding areas of the new major regional railway corridors will be considered in order to project railway demands. The above condition would jeopardise the advantages of mass transit systems, and render the cost effectiveness of further expanding the railway network to serve more districts less appealing. We need to review the impact of urban development density on future railway planning, as well as the demand for various railway projects. …”

15. The current public consultation exercise on the whole appears to be very much single objective oriented – i.e. there appears to be a strong inclination that the Government preferred lines must be built and it is now merely matter of how to finance them. In fact, there could be other ways to finance them, or even not to trigger the decision as yet. There could also be other relevant considerations which have not been duly highlighted in this process, including land use planning and environmental aspects. Essential questions need to be asked as to what is the priority of these proposals in a territorial network perspective and how time savings and other values could be quantified, evaluated, weighed up, balanced, and or traded off etc. , and whether there has been any attempt in seeking possible solutions through a process of “optimisation”.

ENDS

July 2012

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