Sustainable Development - Choices for Our Future (Nov 2004)

The Hong Kong Institute of Planners (the Institute) welcomes the Council for Sustainable Development to engage the public in formulating the direction and choosing the priority policy areas to carry forward sustainable development in the Territory.  Hong Kong as a constituent part of the Greater Pearl River Delta area must formulate its strategy in association with or having regard to the entire area or run the risk of having our efforts easily negated if they were not taken on board by our neighbouring authorities.

 

URBAN LIVING SPACE

 

There are many still some planned development sites in the urban areas and certainly more potential sites in the New Territories.   It is desirable to determine how best to utilize these urban sites having regard to the already congested conditions of the urban areas.  However, in view of the rising aspirations of the community for better living environment and the heavy public investment in railway infrastructure in the New Territories, there are planning merits to spread the development pressure to the New Territories.

 

 

Urban Based Developments

 

Review Development Intensities of Large Sites

 

In the previous years, many urban development sites (public and private) had been approved / agreed to be upzoned to meet the previous housing demand targets.  However, some of these development intensities are quite extraordinary and could create substantial adverse local impacts in terms of blocking public views and hindering air circulation.  With the stabilization of the property market, the most imminent work is to conduct a critical study of all those undeveloped housing sites.   For public housing sites or sites to be put up for sale, such as those at Jordan Valley, Anderson Quarry, Oil Street, Ex-North Point Housing Estate; their development intensities should be carefully reassessed and reduced where considered beneficial to the neighbourhood.  For private sites involving developments above stations along the West Rail and Tseung Kwan O Line, Government should negotiate design improvements upon re-submissions.  For a long time, Hong Kong has been pre-occupied with number crunching and the focus must now be on improving the quality of development.

 

An Urban Renewal Strategy Combining Redevelopment and Rehabilitation

 

The Institute supports an urban renewal strategy that combines both redevelopment and rehabilitation to improve the old urban neighbourhoods.  Rehabilitation will help to preserve the areas with special character, cause less disruption to the local community and can be implemented in a shorter time frame.  In this sense, it is more sustainable and should be continued wherever appropriate.  For comprehensive urban redevelopments recently completed or under construction, they are relatively massive and sometimes over-dominating in the neighbourhood.  We urge that more attention be given to more sensitive design, generous landscaping and streetscaping, as well as possible adverse micro-climate effects in future projects.  Moreover, the recent Ship Street project also reminds us of the need to tackle the social impacts of renewal projects, not only of those who would move out but also of those remaining in the neighbourhood; and needless to say, the need to maintain and enhance district character and collective memories of a place.

 

 

Industrial Sites

 

Another big development land stock in the urban area lies in the obsolete industrial sites.  Recently, we saw gradual transformation of the Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay industrial areas into less polluting business uses.  However, if such sites are comprehensively replanned for say, residential use, there would be scope to reduce the development intensities in the district and thus thinning out the density of these industrial areas.

 

 

New Territories-based Development

 

Developments along Road and Rail Infrastructure

 

For New Territories-based developments, the Institute supports concentrating developments in areas well served by roads and rails particularly the latter due to better environmental performance, so as to better utilise the planned and built infrastructures.  Significant areas for natural and heritage conservation and Country Parks are precious heritage of Hong Kong and should be preserved as a fundamental principle. 

 

Development Intensities

 

In the New Territories, the overall development intensity should be lower than in the urban areas, but those areas with good road accessibility and within convenient feeder service to railway stations could be allowed at higher intensity.  Low density and low rise houses, being more land intensive, should be limited to selected locations in order to minimise its development impacts but to provide a variety of living accommodations.

 

Environmental Friendly Measures

 

In planning development in the New Territories, there would be more scope to introduce environment friendly measures, such as network of cycling paths, “green spines” to encourage walking, a larger range of recreation facilities, connections to green belt zone, country parks and managed conservation areas.

 

 

Sustainable Urban Design

 

 

Urban Design

 

We appreciate Government’s effort in promulgating the Urban Design Guidelines last year that set out the principles for better urban design.  The Institute supports the Government to put greater emphasis on urban design issues in assessing development proposals, formulating new plans  or reviewing existing plans, as it is the cornerstone of good cityscape and quality living environment. 

 

Why are buildings getting taller and bigger? 

 

We are aware that recently completed buildings are becoming higher and growing bulkier even though the maximum densities permitted under the Town Planning Ordinance or Buildings Ordinance had not been substantially changed.   There have been concerns from the community of these mega buildings, especially those springing up on prominent locations or fronting the Victoria Harbour.  The Institute sees a further need to examine the fundamentals of the problem.   Is it due to the many types of permissible bonus plot ratios or GFA exemptions (green features, public passageways, road widening etc.)?   Is there a need to fix a ceiling?  Is it due to the very large lot sizes including roads and open spaces for plot ratio calculation and the resultant huge podium structures, and should site reduction factors be applied for large sites?  Is bonus GFA the only means of providing incentives to developers?  Are there other means e.g. exemptions from premium calculations?  Is it due to the imposition of stringent height limits to high density sites?  Of course, there are price tags to all of these measures, and the Institute supports a review to diagnose the existing conditions so that the community, development agencies and Government can have a sound basis for an informative discussion to decide on the way forward.

 

Air Ventilation in the City

 

The SARS epidemic, rising temperatures over the years, and worsening air pollution level had rung the bell about the health conditions and the comfort level of our City.  Worsening air pollution is more a regional issue that had to be tackled urgently.  It also highlights the fact that Hong Kong cannot achieve sustainable development on its own.  Regional cooperation is a must.

 

The former two issues have also raised media attention and public concern on whether our city has been designed properly, that is, to allow natural air ventilation through the urban fabric.  We note that Government is carrying out a feasibility study for establishing an air ventilation assessment system in Hong Kong.  Air ventilation studies are vividly being studied and/or carried out in governments of European Countries, and our Asian counterparts such as Japan and Singapore.  This is a worthwhile course and we urge the Government to continue its momentum in this area, which we believe is an important aspect of sustainable design especially in the dense urban context of Hong Kong.

 

Other than urban living space, territorial and regional urban infrastructural facilities necessary to support the envisaged economic and population growth will also take up large land areas that need to be catered for. Such facilities include sites for further port growth, new and alternate correctional service centres, regional hospitals, power stations to test and promote renewable energies, waste disposal sites etc.  By their sheer size, they will have significant impact on our limited land resources and thus environmental sustainability. 

 

 

RENEWABLE ENERGY (RE)

 

We note from the information pamphlet that the implementation of RE involves multi-faceted issues such as costs, efficiency, land requirements, visual and noise impacts, technology innovation, investment incentives etc.  In view of the technical nature of these issues, the Institute would not comment in these regards.  However, as a general principle, the Institute supports a policy direction to further develop renewable energy sources in Hong Kong.  The Government should also take the lead in using RE in government buildings or in public spaces (e.g. lighting, ventilation, irrigation facilities for parks etc.)  Although the initial costs may not be justifiable in pure financial terms, but as a responsible Government, other sustainable aspects such as life-cycle costs, social costs and good demonstration effects need to be given due consideration in such public investments.

 

In view of the growing air pollution problem due to coal-fired power plants and heavy road traffic, together with the rising costs of fossil fuel, we should not wait any further but to take concrete steps to set a target percentage of generating our electricity from renewable energy sources.  

 

It is recognised that renewable energy is more expensive than fossil fuels in the short term, but it should be considered as a long-term investment and a responsible act for our future generations.  Once the technology can be applied to wider usage, economies of scale will be achieved.

 

If facilitating access for RE suppliers to the main electricity power grid can help to cut the prices of RE and thus further promoting its wider usage, then we should implement such measures.  

 

Similar to any other infrastructural facilities which may have major environmental impacts, it is essential not only to conduct thorough EIAs to ensure that any residual environmental impacts are acceptable, but more important still is to allow the public to have full access to the assessments and a good understanding of the issues.  The process of making the public understand is as important as the professional assessments.  Alternative sites should be assessed and if the facilities can be provided cost-effectively in remote areas or offshore islands, it would be even more desirable.  

 

We should set performance standards for energy efficiency in buildings.  Incentives rather than mandatory requirements should be provided at this exploratory stage for buildings whose designs can achieve higher performance standards.  However, when the technology for using RE becomes more mature, the performance standards may be turned into building regulations.  

 

With regard to current electricity suppliers, we as a community should require them to establish a work plan for using increasing percentage of power from RE sources in the coming decade, laying out the possible RE sources and the cost implications.  

 

 

SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT

 

It is general knowledge that our landfills will be filled up in the foreseeable future and it will be difficult to create new landfills in the Territory without sterilizing our precious land resources.  The Institute believes that it has come to a critical moment for Government to take bold steps to steer solid waste management strategy.  We support both the reduction of waste production, recycling more of our solid waste, and using alternative means of final waste disposal.  

 

In terms of waste reduction, the Institute supports the Government to impose charges on individuals/companies according to the waste they create, that is, to adopt the polluter pays principle, and to introduce producer responsibility schemes for selected industries by legislation if necessary.

 

For recycling, the Institute supports the provision of economic incentives and/or land to assist the recycling industries to increase their operational efficiency and viability.  Hong Kong is somewhat slow in this area, while recycling should theoretically be more cost effective in high-density cities like Hong Kong.  At present, much of the recycling activities operate in the N.T. without proper environmental and visual mitigations.  Government’s planned recovery park should be implemented as soon as possible.

 

The Institute also supports the Government to identify alternative environmental-friendly methods for waste disposal, including thermal treatment to convert waste to energy.  We believe that careful site selection and design of thermal treatment plants will help address the hazard concerns in relation to these plants.  As mentioned above, it is of paramount importance to let the public understand the issues and the experience of other countries and the views of these overseas communities.

 

The Institute does not have enough information on the institutional aspects of waste management and therefore cannot comment on whether Hong Kong should set up a single Authority to plan and manage solid waste management.  However, just like many other cross-sectoral problems we are facing today, there must be better co-operation among government departments and a mechanism for efficient decision-making within the Government.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

The Institute believes that the issues raised in the document are all important for the sustainable development of Hong Kong.  It is fully understood that there will be problems due to competing public/private resources, and resistance from those who would have to bear the costs of any new measures.  However, for the future generations, this is the moment for strong policy commitment from Government and quick decisive actions are imminent.  Much greater efforts to co-operate with other authorities of the PPRD would be a prerequisite in the areas of infrastructural developments, renewable energy and solid waste management.  The institute would be most willing to provide our professional advice for the betterment of this course.

 

 

Public Affairs Committee, HKIP

November 2004

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