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URA Seminar "Models and Challenges of Urban Renewal - Sharing of Asian Experience" Welcome Speech by Mr Barry Cheung, Chairman, URA

The Honourable Secretary for Development, Mrs. Carrie Lam,
Distinguished Speakers and Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let be begin by extending a very warm welcome to all of you -- and to thank you for being with us today.

We are especially grateful to our eminent speakers from Guangzhou, Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei, for their presence and participation. And we wish to express our sincere appreciation to our distinguished experts from Hong Kong as well.

We are keen to learn from the first-hand experience and innovative urban-renewal or regeneration models that our guest speakers will share with us today. And I am especially looking forward to hearing about creative ideas and pragmatic solutions.

Today's event is also timely in light of the government's current review of Hong Kong's Urban renewal Strategy. The URA has been fully supportive of the entire process, and we have been encouraging our many different stakeholders to actively participate in the review. We feel it is vital that they do so. It has to be a collective, constructive effort.

Ladies & Gentlemen,
Let me start the discussion with an overview of what twenty years of urban regeneration in Hong Kong have achieved.

Between the Land Development Corporation and the Urban renewal Authority, we have launched 51 redevelopment projects that have already helped more than 41,000 people to escape from squalor and unhealthy living conditions, and move into safe and modern homes.

The completed projects provide a total of 38,000 square metres of open space, and about 90,000 square metres of space for Government Institutional and Community facilities -- such as elderly homes, day nurseries, community centres and youth centres.

In addition, as part of our rehabilitation programme, we have so far repaired close to 500 buildings that were previously neglected and dilapidated. This scheme has transformed the living environment of some 40,000 flat owners.

In addition, revitalisation has improved streets and upgraded old neighbourhoods in Sheung Wan, Mong Kok, Tai Kok Tsui and Tsuen Wan.

And, just as important, our preservation programme is making a major contribution to protecting Hong Kong's architectural heritage. The programme has now been expanded to cover 48 pre-war, Cantonese verandah-type shophouses.

One such shophouse, which was also Hong Kong's oldest pawn shop, has already been restored to its former  glory. Located in Wanchai, it is now home to two popular restaurants. The neighbourhood has also been revitalized, as other popular  restaurants and shops have readily sprung up as well.

Although our primary goal remains the same - to clear the slums which pollute the urban environment in our prosperous city - the challenges we face and the public's expectations never stand still. And rightly so, because this is a city whose people expect their government and their public bodies to constantly achieve new and higher goals. The URA is determined to meet these aspirations, to keep pace with change, and to develop fresh perspectives and new thinking. And we have to apply what we learn from the community - quickly and responsibly.

  1. For example, people want to be heard, and they want more say in the planning and decision-making process. So we have to reach out to all our stakeholders, and make a constant effort to understand and appreciate their concerns and issues.
  2. Also -- a better, greener living environment has become a priority. And building-related issues, such as density, visual impact, local character and traffic flow, are debated vigorously today. So we need to factor in these elements as well. And we have to be open to new ideas and alternative solutions as we recognise that the URA does not have all the answers.
  3. Last but not least, special interest groups, including NGOs, have become much more vocal and visible. And different, often contradictory demands compete for attention. We have to be inclusive and measured in our response if we are to make the best use of all the energy, enthusiasm and expertise that these groups bring to discussion of these issues.

So, the URA "culture" has developed a dialogue-and-collaboration approach to ensure that we work closely with our various stakeholders. An example is our ambitious Kwun Tong project, which covers a site of more than 53,000 square metres, and a total of 24 buildings.

The project plans will impact more than 1,600 property interests and 5,000 people. All of them will be considerably affected by this project - for the better we are sure. But because of the importance to each individual of their homes and property, we have to listen to their feedback seriously and sensitively. To make sure that every voice has a chance to be heard in person, the URA has already organized more than 60 rounds of public consultation. And we plan more outreach efforts in the coming months.

At the end of the day, the URA's objective is to try and achieve a sensible balance that works well for the community. We have to take into account our fundamental responsibility to those who live in unacceptable and, often, appalling conditions. We cannot compromise on our duty to these unfortunate families.

At the same time, we have to achieve the maximum benefits for Hong Kong as a whole, so that homes fit for our people do not come at the expense of either the city's environment or our  heritage. With each project, the URA's goal is to deliver a balanced solution.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Here in Hong Kong, we pride ourselves on our vibrant community, our resilient citizens, and our society's deep concern for the underprivileged. It is a city we can all be proud of. And we wish to keep it that way.

In this regard, today's seminar will help provide new dimensions, wider perspectives and world-class expertise to help us manage the challenges of urban renewal. I therefore wish all the participants a productive and engaging time.

And, again, on behalf of the URA, I would like to express how much we value your participation and support.

Thank you.