PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2008, 12:00am

Town Planning Board overhaul long overdue

As a former member of the Town Planning Board between 1988 and 1996, I am able to confirm that there were proposals for the reform of the board to improve its function as an independent statutory body as mentioned in the letter of Nigel Kat ''Newspeak' fools nobody - our city planning is still a shambles' (December 26).

Section 3(1)(a) of the Town Planning Ordinance empowers the board to make outline zoning plans for Hong Kong 'with a view to the health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the community'. Therefore the board should be representing the public interest and not government interests nor powerful entrenched interests.

However, the present system does not achieve this because all the board members are either government officials or appointed by the chief executive on the advice of the government. The unofficial members are appointed in their personal capacity and have no representative capacity.

They are not chosen by the public and do not enjoy any mandate from the public.

They are only appointed for two years and can be replaced by the government.

The chairman is the permanent secretary for development (planning and lands).

There is no independent secretariat. The Planning Department serves as the secretariat and the deputy director of planning (district) is the secretary to the board.

This lack of independence is particularly felt when the government is the proponent and puts proposals with a self-interest before the board.

While clearly the present planning system needs improvement, especially with regard to the appointment of board members to ensure the board's independence, I pay tribute to the board members who have served selflessly and conscientiously in order to give the people a better quality of life and make Hong Kong a better place to live in.

Winston K. S. Chu, adviser, Society for the Protection of the Harbour

City-wide idling ban needed

In most cases, and on health protection, resource saving and emission reduction grounds, I see no good reason to keep idling engines running, except for selfish self-comfort.

Switching off idling engines should be every driver's obligation. In view of the worsening situation and the continuing irresponsible behaviour of many, a statutory ban is inevitable.

Banning idling engines will help the community develop responsibility towards reduction of vehicle emissions at the roadside. The government's present proposal is in line with the sustainability principles of addressing environmental problems for present and future generations, improving the environment and providing a living environment which promotes and protects the physical health of the people of Hong Kong. For fairness and sharing of responsibility to reduce emissions, the ban, if introduced, should also cover petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles, in addition to diesel vehicles.

Certain types of vehicles could be exempted from the ban for operational reasons, for example, ambulances, vehicles of the disciplinary forces, other emergency vehicles and vehicles which have their engines idling for genuine operational needs.

The ban should be enforced round-the-clock throughout Hong Kong. No exemption should be given in summer for idling vehicles to keep their air-conditioners running.

To cater for unique requirements, the government, after consultations, may exempt a particular area or a particular period of time, such as during a typhoon.

In view of its relatively less serious consequences and enforcement efficiency, the violation can be made a contravention (a minor infraction, with a fixed penalty of HK$320 as a way of punishment), and the ban be implemented by a fixed penalty system rather than a summons.

Yim Kin-ping, fellow member, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

These faxes are bad for business

Unsolicited fax and SMS adverts are a nuisance, and should be made illegal.

Calling in the middle of the night causes incredible anxiety, especially for those with elderly parents. Smart businesses realise such advertising is counterproductive. If you make yourself a nuisance, no one will give you business, even if they're in need of the service or product you're offering.

I make it a point to blacklist these businesses. What is needed is a registration hotline that actually works.

L. Yeo, Repulse Bay

Personalities are important

I refer to the letter by Rob Leung ('Teacher setting a bad example', December 31).

I would first like to mention the numerous channels in which the youth of Hong Kong may be subjected to bad examples, such as films, TV and video games.

Secondly, Mr Leung failed to mention if this 'unsuitable school teacher' was even in the classroom when he heard her speak. Surely he is not suggesting that a teacher, or any other professional, must give up their individuality and right to freely express themselves in the manner of their choice when they are not in the work environment?

However, as Mr Leung's concern is for the credentials of a language teacher, maybe he should direct his complaints to those who determine the appropriate qualifications for teachers, such as the employers or the Immigration Department.

I would also like to add that as a young, single westerner I find it disheartening not to be extended the same courtesy of cultural appreciation and open-mindedness that Teaching English as a Foreign Language teachers both experience and hope to impress upon their students.

Victoria Slominski, Sha Tin

Adjust tolls at tunnels

The Western Harbour Tunnel toll has gone up by 15 per cent.

It is already the most under-used and the most expensive tunnel to use, but yet it is increasing the tolls, unafraid of losing more customers.

It is said that the Western Harbour Tunnel is only operating a commercial and market rate. The government-operated Cross-Harbour Tunnel has been charging below the market rate for many years and so it is the most popular tunnel, but causes a lot of traffic congestion.

Problems can be eased if the Western Harbour Tunnel significantly reduces its tolls or the Cross-Harbour Tunnel significantly increases tolls. Only a balanced and fairer toll among all the operators can present the drivers with a real choice. This can ease traffic congestion and achieve the aim of proper cross-harbour traffic management, which does not exist at the moment.

It will be very difficult to achieve this task and the government should look very carefully at how it should tackle this challenge. Some action must definitely be taken to ensure that the use of all three tunnels crossing the harbour, is optimised.

I would suggest that the government buys back the operating rights of the Eastern and Western tunnels and starts again with its strategy.

Given that fiscal reserves are in such a good shape, there is no better time to make this adjustment.

H. C. Bee, Ho Man Tin