designing hong kong  

"Newspeak" fool noday - our city planning is still a shambles

Letter by Nigel Kat, Published in the SCMP, December 26, 2007

Hong Kong's planning is a shambles. Our historic harbour and city centre are being torn apart under our noses to build a new government headquarters, roads and railways. The New Territories is a string of faceless, identical high-rise new towns linked by uniform roads through countryside despoiled by dumps of all kinds. The Town Planning Board is regularly castigated by the courts for acting unlawfully or unfairly when implementing Planning Department "recommendations".

And yet, in a dazzling example of "newspeak" worthy of George Orwell's fictional Ministry of Truth, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor noted recently that the Town Planning Ordinance had recently been amended and improved. There was no immediate reason for further amendments, she said.

In July 1991, the government said there was a clear need for seven key reforms to the planning ordinance:

  • to bring the public into the planning process before any plans were drawn up;
  • make the planning board more representative and remove its secretariat from the Planning Department;
  • ensure the preservation of monuments and built heritage, and the harmony of nearby development;
  • stop prolonged, non-conforming "temporary" uses;
  • tax development gains;
  • compensate for blight; and
  • improve enforcement.

Eight years later, in 1999, we were told yet again that those seven reforms were still necessary, and would be legislated in stages.

Finally, in 2003, we saw a tiny step towards two of those seven reforms: public objections to statutory plans were allowed, and some planning board procedures were opened up. There were some other cosmetic tweaks, but not the required vital reforms.

When she spoke this month (December 2007), was Mrs. Lam overlooking the recent public outcries against the demolition of heritage and destruction of the harbour?

Had she forgotten the acknowledged need for the seven reforms?

Or were she and her masters deliberately peddling revisionist history: i.e. there never was a need for further amendment, and the 1991 and 1999 promises were never made?