Citizens' needs drive development plans

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 1998, 12:00am

I refer to the letter from Man Chi-sum (South China Morning Post, October 19), which stated that the South East Kowloon Development was not sustainable. While I am very grateful for all the work that groups like Green Power are doing to draw attention to the importance of environmental considerations for the quality of Hong Kong's development, I must caution against abuse of the term 'sustainable'.

Sustainability is an important issue for Hong Kong. We are only in the early stages of discussing what it means for our city. If we start using 'sustainable' as an adjective to lend lustre to one set of ideas (usually our own), and its counterpart 'non-sustainable' as an epithet to throw at another set of ideas (usually someone else's), the discussion is going to deviate down very unproductive pathways.

It is more helpful for thinking about what may be more sustainable to consider the pressures that Hong Kong is facing, chiefly from population. The 6.7 million people already in this small territory create some of the highest population densities in the world, six to eight times higher in Kowloon and along the north shore of Hong Kong Island than inner London and two-thirds higher than central Calcutta.

The demands of all these citizens for housing, education, transport, employment, recreation and leisure drive the development of this city. It is meeting those needs that the Government is concerned about when considering development plans, not making money as Mr Man seems to think.

While I agree with the point that Mr Man makes about the need for development such as that at southeast Kowloon to be aesthetically and environmentally pleasing, his comments on supposed environmental dangers are not at all obvious.

The remediation of any potential hazards to health is clearly essential. It will be carried out before any development proceeds. The Environmental Impact Assessment sub-committee of the Advisory Council on the Environment, on which Green Power is represented, is an important part of the process for checking and ensuring that this is done.

All the reports that go to that committee are published, in accordance with the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, so that anyone who wants to know about these matters has full access to the information.

Hong Kong's harbour is a wonderful asset for this city, helping to shape its character and to set it apart from any other place in the world. But the mountains, valleys, wetlands, towns and villages of the New Territories are also part of what makes this place special.

It is worth stopping to consider whether pushing all the demands that our citizens have into development in the New Territories, which is the inevitable consequence of stopping further developments in the older urban area, makes sense either for the quality of our environment or for the social and economic vitality of this city.

It is also worth stopping to think whether the expectations about such things as private transport or having no development in your area of view are compatible with those for cleaner air or a reasonable standard of living accommodation.

KIM SALKELD for Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands