In New York, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure is in place to engage all citizens in determining land use. Within a span of 215 days, the process takes development applications through community boards, boroughs, the city planning commission, to the city council and the mayor for decisions.
Hong Kong needs a legitimised process like this. Michael Suen Ming-yeung, the secretary for housing, planning and lands, may be right to say that the government has consulted the public. But this statement has to be qualified.
The public was not involved in the first round of planning for the third phase of the Central reclamation scheme. People could only object when the Outline Zoning Plan was gazetted in 1998. After receiving 70 objections, the government revised the plan, involving the objectors, but not the public. The revised plan was then approved by the Chief Executive in Council in February 2000, and gazetted in March. Consultations with the district councils and the Legislative Council were also held.
The government has gone through a 'proper' process, which unfortunately is flawed.
Many world-class cities have a participatory planning process that delivers quality planning outcomes. This practice seems to remain unpalatable to those who govern our city. With reference to the third phase of the Central reclamation scheme, the public has never had an opportunity to formally audit the assets of the site, envision its future and contribute to creative planning solutions - all standard planning practices in other world-class cities. What Hong Kong needs is a soul-searching process. We need urgent discussions to agree on an urban planning process that is acceptable to different stakeholders.
NG MEE-KAM, associate professor in Urban Planning, the University of Hong Kong
Cap the number of cars
In his recent policy address, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen acknowledged that vehicle emissions accounted for at least 25 per cent of the city's air pollution. But when outlining his plan of action, he moved from examining any long-term planning-based strategies, saying that further consultation was needed.
We suggest that the government set a permanent cap on the number of cars allowed into Hong Kong's busy districts by making slight changes in our licence-registration system. Similar measures in South Korea have led to an easing of traffic congestion and a reduction in air pollution.
In South Korea, the government used their unified licence-number registration system, the shibuzhi, to limit the number of cars allowed into its busier areas. As all the licence plates in South Korea have four numbers, the government initiated a scheme whereby citizens would voluntarily refrain from driving on certain days, based on the last digit of their licence plates. Although this system is not mandatory, many companies encourage their employees to follow it.
As a result of this scheme, significant advances have been made in relieving traffic congestion and reducing the number of pollutants in those areas.
In Hong Kong, we could set up a similar scheme based on the last digit on car licence plates; and for those cars whose licences do not end with a number, we can always add one. As it might take a while to implement this new system, we suggest that a transition period of one year should be given to existing drivers to change their licence plates. District councils could help handle the applications for new licence plates and the government could pay for the licence-plate changes during the transitional period.
While this initially might appear costly, it would be far less than the HK$3.2 billion the government has earmarked for subsidising purchases of more eco-friendly cars. There would also be no need for the government to spend more money, once this system was in place, as all new licences would have to follow this scheme, making this a one-off expenditure.
VICKY MAN and ALICE RYU
Pok Fu Lam
A day to honour police
For many people in Hong Kong it was the start of a prosperous new year. But the stabbing of a police officer in Yuen Long on January 4 has marred that happy start. The fact that Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world is attributable to the efforts and contributions of the Hong Kong Police Force.
Police officers face danger on a daily basis, so that the public can stay safe. The gallantry, team spirit and devotion to duty of the police is well recognised by the public. Both teachers and nurses have days of the year that are designated to them, to recognise the important role they play in society. I suggest, therefore, that Hong Kong also establishes a police day, to boost the morale among officers and create a good image of the police among the public.
BARRY KWOK, Wong Tai Sin
Can someone in the relevant government department explain how a man with 10 convictions for burglary, robbery, rape, possession of a weapon, and assault is allowed to walk the streets of Hong Kong?
Constable Cheung Wah-yuk was seriously injured on Friday, and could well have been killed, by a man who should have been in prison for life. This incident should certainly make our legislators and judges seriously consider the sentences given to criminals. Why was he released from prison? Constable Cheung, his family, and Hong Kong deserve better.
TERRY SCOTT, Sha Tin
Forget about the old and new Star Ferry piers. The issue merely distracts us from the next horror to be perpetrated by 'our' government on our city: the groundscraper. The long, low-rise building to be constructed at Tamar will prevent views of the new pier, let alone the harbour and the mountains beyond. Central has some good buildings by distinguished architects. It also has a view down the streets and across Statue Square to the harbour.
If the government has its way, that view - and the air circulation that comes with it - will be lost. To compound the insult, the government's plans for the space between us, the users of the city, and our harbour include a new government complex designed, like the castles of Samurai Japan, to be raised up on a podium, and like the castles of the French nobility, to be surrounded by a moat to keep out the hoi polloi. I doubt it will have the same elegance.
It is possible that the groundscraper will match some of the better architecture of Central, but more likely it will replicate, like a mortuary slab, the aesthetics of Tsim Sha Tsui East - crass and outmoded consumer vulgarity. We should campaign against this further monstrosity.
If Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is sincere in caring for Hong Kong's heritage, he will immediately review the groundscraper's impact on sightlines, airflow and that balance between harbour and city that is the absolute essence of Hong Kong and also the symbol of its openness. Enough destruction.
PAUL SERFATY, Mid-Levels
Horrible to Hagar
I have been a South China Morning Post reader for a couple of years. I not only like the sections on politics and business, but also the cartoons as they provide some levity to compensate for the new insurgencies in Iraq or a corruption case in Shanghai.
Unfortunately, while the other sections retain their high level of quality, the cartoons have suffered. The first serious blow was to remove Alex about two years ago. Then the newspaper cut down the cartoon section in the City section to allow space for Sudoku, because it is a trendy pastime for people who have problems with chess and crossword puzzles.
The final blow came when Hagar the Horrible was recently replaced with Doonesbury. While all the other cartoons are mostly fine humour, Doonesbury never makes me laugh. What a pity.
MARKUS PESCH, Beijing
We love you, Mickey
It's nearly a year ago that people were throwing their children over fences to get them into Hong Kong Disneyland. After my wife and I visited the park at Christmas, maybe we should throw our children over the fence to get them in, it's that much fun. But that might be a bit difficult - our children are in their 30s and 40s.We didn't do much when in the park. We just took the train and watched the tree-lighting ceremony. It was a real Christmas treat.
Then we walked along the main street as very realistic snow fell from above the glittering buildings. But what amazed me most was that local people were actually smiling. They didn't have their heads down, charging forward, but had the biggest smiles I have seen in my 35 years of coming to Hong Kong.
Congratulations to the ever-maligned Hong Kong government. On this deal you did well.
LENNY HARRIS, Jordan