Hong Kong Town Planning Board members criticise government for failing to curb car growth in city

In discussing government’s 2030 Plus plans, members say officials must do far more to build a city that places public transport first

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 6:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 11:25pm

Members of Hong Kong’s planning board criticised the government for failing to show its determination to build a city that places public transport first, citing inaction in introducing any policy to curb the growth in private car numbers.

Town Planning Board members also urged the government on Friday to devise detailed policies to follow up the 2030 Plus long-term planning vision, such as setting targets for living area per person and agricultural self-sufficiency, instead of merely throwing out empty promises such as building larger homes and preserving agricultural land.

The planning blueprint, which lays out planning and development principles beyond 2030, was released late last month for a six-month public consultation. It is expected to be finalised in 2018.

In the blueprint, the government said the average annual growth in private cars was 3 per cent between 1995 and last year, far higher than 1.7 per cent in household growth and 0.8 per cent in population growth.

At this rate, the government predicted the city would have 1.23 million private cars in 2041 – double the number last year.

The blueprint envisages Hong Kong as a pedestrian and cycling-friendly city with public transport as the main means of transport.

But board vice-chairman Professor Wong Sze-chun said the government had failed to let residents understand the importance of building a public transport-first city and that using private cars would not be sustainable.

“The problem is citizens have forgotten that Hong Kong is a public transport-first city,” said Wong, an engineering professor at the University of Hong Kong. “You need to let people know clearly that it is not possible to use private cars as the main means of transportation.”

Wong said it was due to people’s lack of understanding and support that the government had failed to introduce measures to curb private car growth such as increasing first registration and licence fees.

Planning Department representatives said the blueprint had discussed a public transport-first city, and promised to continue to highlight the principle during the public consultation.

Member Alex Lai Ting-hong said the blueprint had made it difficult for the public to discuss the issue because it raised only beautiful but empty slogans and concepts. He said the government should set a required minimum living area per person and other policy details.

Department officials said there was no international standard for an average living area per person, but they welcomed discussion on the issue.

The government said in the blueprint that Hong Kong needed 4,800 hectares of land to build flats and stimulate economic development. With 3,600 hectares already identified, the city still needs to find another 1,200 hectares.

The government recommended two large-scale new town developments in the northern New Territories and on reclaimed land to the east of Lantau – which could provide 1,720 hectares of land.

The government said it had overestimated demand for land by 10 per cent to enable larger living areas.

Although the vision mentioned building an agricultural park and preserving some good-quality agricultural land, it did not set a target for self-sufficiency.

Member Dr Billy Hau Chi-hang urged the government to give such details, but department representatives did not respond.