Bills Committee on Protection of the Harbour Bill

Meeting on 21 April 1997


In October 1995, Hon. Christine Loh submitted the first version of the Protection of the Harbour Bill to the President of the Legislative Council (LegCo). The President ruled in July 1996 that the Bill had a charging effect because of the new obligations it would place on the Town Planning Board (TPB) to consider and approve all future reclamation projects.

2. Subsequent to the President’s decision, Miss Loh submitted a revised Bill in August 1996 which made no reference to the TPB. In August 1996, the President of LegCo ruled that the revised Bill had no charging effect. The Bill was published in the Government Gazette on 22 November 1996 and introduced into LegCo on 4 December 1996. A Bills Committee was set up on 9 April 1997 to examine the Bill.

Major issues relating to the Bill

3. The Bill seeks to subject all harbour reclamation to the approval of LegCo. It contains a general presumption against harbour reclamation, and a provision that no reclamation can be carried out except with the approval of LegCo after a proposal from the Governor.

4. By defining reclamation as ‘any work over and upon any foreshore and seabed’, the Bill would cover not only land formation, but also other works such as pipeline, utilities, maintenance dredging, recovery of wrecks, hydrological surveys, etc. This would subject a wide range of routine works to the approval of LegCo.

5. By including the Mass Transit Railway (Land Resumption and Related Provisions) Ordinance and the Roads (Works, Use and Compensation) Ordinance as ‘relevant Ordinance(s)’, the Bill would subject harbour reclamation works associated with MTR projects and road projects to LegCo’s approval.

Position of the Administration

6. The Government is opposed to the Bill, and thinks it is unnecessary and will confuse the division of responsibility between the Legislature and the Executive.

The Bill is not necessary

7. The existing town planning process is open and transparent, involving a thorough process of public consultation.

  1. The Town Planning Ordinance already provides a mechanism for the TPB to scrutinize proposed reclamation projects through amendments to outline zoning plans and for the public to be consulted -

    1. Following the relevant studies, if Government finds a reclamation project feasible, a proposal to make or amend a town plan is put to the TPB.

    2. The TPB scrutinizes the proposal, having regard to the proposed land use, the various impacts and other relevant factors.

    3. If endorsed, the draft town plan is exhibited for public views.

    4. If objections are received, TPB would invite the objectors to a hearing before deciding whether to amend the draft plan.

    5. The Governor in Council is invited to decide whether or not to approve the draft plan, having regard to any unwithdrawn objections.

  2. Specific works projects are required to be gazetted under the Foreshore and Sea-bed (Reclamations) Ordinance for public objections. Government is required to consider all objections and submit them to the Governor in Council for a decision on whether or not the works should be authorized.

  3. No project in the Public Works Programme (PWP) can proceed unless approval from the Public Works Sub-Committee (PWSC) and Finance Committee (FC) of LegCo is obtained. This includes harbour reclamations and LegCo already has enough powers to control such projects.

The Bill Upsets division of responsibility between Executive and Legislature

8. The Bill would transfer the responsibility of planning and land use development involving harbour reclamation from the Executive to the Legislature, upsetting the present division of responsibilities between the two. Our political system is built on the principle of ‘separation of powers’, with the Executive being responsible for formulating policies and providing services to the community. It is the Administration’s responsibility to prepare reclamation proposals, to consult the public as provided under the various Ordinances, and to seek funding approval from LegCo for their implementation. LegCo plays a monitoring role by controlling the appropriation of funds. The Bill will, however, give LegCo the authority to make policy decisions through a power of veto on the authorization of harbour reclamation which now rests with the Governor in Council under the Foreshore and Sea-bed (Reclamations) Ordinance. This new power would take LegCo beyond its present role. In any event, LegCo is not equipped for decision-making of this kind. While the Bill subjects all harbour reclamations to the approval of LegCo, the Bill is silent on how LegCo would approve such proposals. It is not clear whether LegCo would invite public objections, conduct public hearings, allow appeals against its decisions, etc. It is also not clear what criteria LegCo would use to approve / reject harbour reclamation proposals. Given the constitutional implications, the Administration cannot support the Bill.

The Bill constrains Government’s ability to balance development

9. Harbour reclamation provides land to meet growing demand for housing, offices and community facilities to support our social and economic development. The Bill limits the range of options available to resolve planning and land use development problems by a presumption against harbour reclamation. It severely constrains Government’s ability to supply land and infrastructure in the right place, and at the right time by subjecting harbour reclamation to as yet unknown approval procedure and criteria.

Public response

10. Public views on the Bill are divided. Some academics and planning professionals see the merits of harbour reclamation in alleviating the overcrowding problems in the urban area and in providing land for infrastructure and other facilities which cannot be provided elsewhere. For example, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners is against the ‘presumption against reclamation in the harbour’ provided in the Bill, opining that the need for harbour reclamation should be evaluated within the territorial planning context which involves the interplay of a wide spectrum of economic, social, environmental and political considerations.

11. There is, on the other hand, a strong body of opinion amongst property developers, marine practitioners and green groups who are against harbour reclamation. The general public, while recognizing the contribution harbour reclamation has in supplying land in the urban area, is also concerned at the loss of considerable areas in the harbour to development.


12. We recognize that there is genuine, widespread, public concern about the future of the harbour, as an important feature of Hong Kong’s heritage which has been central to its economic prosperity. We, too, are committed to preserving the harbour. We are looking at the public’s response to the recommendations in the TDSR. In the meantime, we will not commence work on any major reclamation projects in the harbour.

13. In summary, we are opposed to the Bill and believe that -

  1. The Bill undermines the effectiveness of the Town Planning Ordinance and the function of TPB. The existing town planning procedure is already open and transparent, involving a thorough process of public consultation;

  2. checks and balances are already well in place. PWSC has the power to decide whether to upgrade public works projects and FC has the power to approve or not approve funds for harbour reclamation projects;

  3. the Bill, if passed into law, will upset the present division of responsibilities between the Executive and the Legislature;

  4. we are examining the public’s response to the TDSR. Harbour reclamation plays an important role in providing land for housing and infrastructure projects in the urban area. We should not pre-empt this option before the TDSR exercise is completed.

Planning, Environment and Lands Branch
April 1997

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