Letters to the Editor, May 12, 2014

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 3:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 3:08am

Cut congestion for cars and pedestrians

There have been a number of articles and letters on the proposal for a pedestrian and tram precinct in Des Voeux Road, including the report, "Planners want buses off Central road" (April 29).

I was privileged to have been involved in guiding similar schemes in London to improve the streetscape and enhance pedestrian safety in an earlier position with Transport for London, including improvements made to Piccadilly and Oxford Circus completed just before the London Olympics.

These hugely popular schemes not only provided much more and less cluttered space for pedestrians to move around at street level; they were also achieved without any disbenefit to the movement of road traffic.

It is entirely possible, with good design and planning, to reduce congestion for both pedestrians and vehicles at the same time, especially if the latest traffic-control technologies and techniques are employed.

If one considers the volume of people moving around Hong Kong's streets on foot, they already far outweigh the equivalent numbers of people moving in cars, taxis and buses.

Any rational mind can see that providing wider footways and better surface crossings is a way to gently encourage more people to walk rather than "ride", especially for short distances. Not only is this good for health, it reduces pollution through less use of motor vehicles. Moreover, increased footfall is good news for shop owners, restaurants and business.

At present, pedestrian congestion can be so bad that one is brusquely pushed on when one might have otherwise lingered to read a menu or look at a window display.

Indeed, improving pedestrian footfall in the interests of retail business was one of the prime political drivers behind the Piccadilly scheme in London and it worked.

Neil W. Adams, Pok Fu Lam


HK can gain from medical tourism

I read about the losses incurred by our private hospitals as a result of the ban in the maternity services for non-residents.

A clever businessman will always try to capitalise on demand in the market by meeting that demand and making a profit.

Hong Kong has a world-class medical system, so it attracts people, especially from the mainland, to come and deliver their babies. It is an opportunity, not a threat.

The good thing about maternity care is that delivery is always a long way off and you can plan. As long as we have a mechanism to protect local demand, we can meet this extra demand and create an industry out of it.

If priority is given to local residents in the first three months of pregnancy, then we can gauge surplus facilities and accept non-resident patients. In the longer term, we can expand maternity wards or build a new maternity hospital.

Thailand, for instance, has had success in medical tourism and we can learn from it.

It is the same with baby milk powder. Every baby in Hong Kong is registered with a birth certificate. As long as the parents can register with government maternity centres (using the birth certificate as evidence), the local suppliers will give preferential allocation to local babies. This is simple to administer.

Again, any extra supply can be sold to our visitors. Eventually Hong Kong can be a distribution centre for baby milk powder, just like our wine business.

Let us take advantage of our system and create new businesses to create a win-win situation, rather than suppressing the demand and end up in a lose-lose situation.

Dennis Li, Mid-Levels


Law Society president was out of order

I refer to the All Around Town column ("And that's no comment in all languages…", May 8).

You referred to a video in which Law Society president, Ambrose Lam San-keung, refused to answer a reporter's question in English. He said he had already answered the question in Cantonese [on the chief executive election in 2017].

Around 20 per cent of the society's membership is non-Chinese. Also, many Chinese lawyers in Hong Kong were brought up and educated abroad and are more comfortable communicating in English, particularly when it comes to matters pertaining to legal issues. The English language plays an integral role in the legal system operating under English common law.

Mr Lam also ignores the fact that the segregation practised for decades in local schools has ensured that ethnic minorities were never given the opportunity to achieve high standards in the vernacular.

His arrogant attitude has no place in a city that depends on international commerce and trade.

Our legal system has been praised repeatedly as being the bedrock of Hong Kong's success as a major financial centre.

Changes in the political system can have an impact on trade and international confidence.

The role of the media is to disseminate information of interest at both a local and international level.

It is wrong for a person in Mr Lam's position to adopt this rude attitude towards the English-language media.

Members of the Law Society should now question if what he did was appropriate for someone in the post of president.

If he has widespread support from fellow members of the society for his refusal to answer the question in English, then this does not bode well for Hong Kong's future.

Paul Kumar, for Tsim Sha Tsui Residents' Concern Group


Offer early retirement scheme as well

The average lifespan of Hong Kong people has reached record highs over the past decade.

Because of this, many people are beginning to worry about whether they have enough saved up for their retirement.

More of them are now considering extending their retirement age so they can supplement their life savings and meet future family needs.

The government is considering extending its retirement age for civil servants [new recruits] from 60 to 65. As with any policy, there are pros and cons.

It can help those who fear that they will experience financial difficulties. On the other hand, if many high-ranking officials stay on in their posts it could adversely affect the promotion prospects of their subordinates.

It could also mean fewer vacancies for those wanting to join the civil service.

In order to offset the effects of this later retirement policy beyond the age of 60, the government should also offer an early retirement policy.

This would be a win-win situation and would cater to the varied needs of civil servants.

Barry Kwok, Wong Tai Sin


Lively zone needs some noise limits

The opening hours of the pedestrian zone in Mong Kok have been cut back to weekends and public holidays.

It certainly is a vibrant atmosphere, packed with all kinds of performers, for example, musicians and people doing magic tricks. They add some colour to a city that has often been described as a cultural desert.

In addition to the musical entertainment, tourists can also enjoy the local flavour of a neighbourhood that is unique to Hong Kong. But, there is a downside to the zone, because it can become very noisy and this is obviously a cause of concern for nearby residents.

I do not want to see the musicians stopped from performing during the opening hours of the pedestrian zone. However, officials need to try and strike a balance between the needs of residents and the interests of the street performers.

Also, the area can get very crowded and become a bit chaotic when it is really busy.

Officials need to ensure better monitoring of the zone.

I would like to see the government establishing more pedestrian precincts.

Maggie Mak Yuen-ting, Yau Yat Chuen


Lawmakers conducting a witch-hunt

It is common knowledge that delays and cost overruns are common in major infrastructural projects. Famously, Sydney Opera House cost 15 times more than original estimates.

The fact that we in Hong Kong have an excellent on-time record for infrastructure projects simply reflects how good we are. But we cannot be perfect forever.

Let's remove the rhetoric and condense the facts about the high-speed rail situation.

The engineers discovered a problem.

Despite the immense difficulty, they tried their best to solve it and stay on schedule, but were unable to do so.

They informed the public after finally confirming that a delay was unavoidable.

Under the circumstances, what else should they have done?

For the Legislative Council to conduct a witch-hunt is surely a miserable, desperate attempt at political posturing for legislative councillors' 15 minutes of fame.

Thanks to the behaviour of some lawmakers, we can be rest assured that the heads of future infrastructure projects will no longer contemplate embracing the true Hong Kong "can-do" spirit and try on their own to resolve these problems before going to the government.

It is high time that legislative councillors went back to their primary responsibility of making laws, instead of missing Legco meetings and looking for bogeymen.

Michael Wong, Hung Hom