PLC Paper No. CB(1)140
(These minutes have been seen by the
Administration and cleared with the Chairman)
Ref : CB1/BC/7/96/2

Bills Committee on
Railways Bill

Minutes of the Meeting
held on Thursday, 13 March 1997,
at 11:00 am in Conference Room A
of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon CHAN Kam-lam (Chairman)
    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
    Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, OBE, JP
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
    Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Member attending:

    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon LAU Wong-fat, OBE, JP
    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, OBE, FEng, JP

Public officers attending :

Deputy Secretary for Transport
Mrs Agnes Allcock
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
Ms Linda SO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
Mr Trevor Keen
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Lands)
Government Engineer/Railway Development
Mr Frank Phillips
Chief Estate Surveyor/Acquisition
Miss Sherman CHAN
Acting Senior Assistant Law Draftsman
Mrs Hedy CHU
Assistant Secretary for Transport

Attendance by invitation :

Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation

Mr Ian McPherson
Director, West Rail
Mr David Fleming
General Counsel

Mass Transit Railway Corporation

Mr Leonard Turk
Legal Director & Secretary
Mr Jim Walker
Civil Planning Manager
Mrs Miranda LEUNG
Corporate Relations Manager

New Territories Heung Yee Kuk

Mr LAM Kwok-yin
Mr LAM Kwok-cheong
Mr YIP Moon-wah
Mr HEUNG Cheuk-kei

Clerk in attendance:

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Miss Connie FUNG,
Assistant Legal Adviser 3
Mr Matthew LOO,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4 (Atg)

I Confirmation of minutes of meetings

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1032/96-97)

The minutes of meeting held on 21 January 1997 were confirmed.

II Meeting with deputations

Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) and Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC)

(Paper No. CB(1)729/96-97 - submission from Mass Transit Railway Corporation
Paper No. CB(1)768/96-97 - submission from Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation)

2. At the Chairman’s invitation, Mr Ian MCPHERSON briefed the Panel on KCRC’s comments on the Bill. In essence, KCRC had no legal framework for building new railway projects at present. The Bill was essential in particular to the construction of the Western Corridor Railway (WCR) without which its alignment could not be publicly delineated and KCRC could not enter private land to proceed with geotechnical works for WCR technical studies. Unless construction of WCR could commence by mid-1998, KCRC could not meet the target completion date. Whilst supporting the Bill, KCRC was however concerned about the lack of a statutory time limit to deal with objections, which in its view was of utmost importance in order to avoid unnecessary delays. The Route 3 (country park) project was an example where considerable time had been spent on resolving only about 30 objections. As around 400 graveyards were expected to be cleared for WCR project, it was of equal importance that any statutory time-frame for resolving objections should apply to grave clearance and relocation as well. The present procedures for resuming graveyards under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) were cumbersome and time-consuming. Mr MCPHERSON stressed that the legal framework provided for in the Bill together with a statutory time limit for dealing with objections were cardinal for KCRC to meet the schedule of WCR project as suggested by the Administration. The general public would be the victim if the project completion date was delayed, resulting in higher project costs and Government equity.

3. At the Chairman’s invitation, Mr Leonard TURK briefed members on MTRC’s comments on the Bill. In brief, MTRC had enforced the Mass Transit Railway (Land Resumption and Related Provisions) Ordinance (Cap 276) to deal with land resumption for new railway projects in the past 20 years. MTRC would support a modernized legislative framework as proposed in the Bill to balance the interests of objectors and the community provided that major new railway projects would not be delayed. Given the open-ended objection procedures in the Bill, considerable time would be needed in resolving objections. The Administration envisaged that land resumption for the new railway projects in Tseung Kwan O and West Kowloon would take 22 and 34 months respectively. This time-frame was exceptionally long as compared with the present situation whereby MTRC could resolve objections within one month under existing provisions in the MTRC Ordinance. Mr TURK pointed out that MTRC had adopted a fast track approach in the design of railway projects where design and construction works were done simultaneously by phases. Even with this approach, it was essential to have a confirmed railway alignment before the detailed design could commence. Experience from major rail projects in Hong Kong showed that it took seven to eight years from inception to opening. This period was short as compared with the time taken in other developed countries which needed 15 to 20 years. The availability of land was the key factor for the prolonged delays in these countries. MTRC was keen to ensure that this period be kept as short as possible and urged the Administration to impose a time limit in resolving objections.

4. In response to a member’s enquiry about the feasibility of handling objections by public hearings within a statutory period, Mr MCPHERSON and Mr TURK said that the main concern of KCRC and MTRC was the construction progress of railway projects. The question as to how to deal with objections was a matter for the Administration. Mr TURK clarified that the imposition of a time limit should be confined to the handling of objections to a railway scheme. This should not be confused with resolving objections relating to compensation and for which imposition of a time limit was inappropriate. As a matter of fact, MTRC had yet to settle some cases regarding compensation for land resumption for the Mass Transit Railway Island Line which had been in operation for 15 years. In Mr TURK’s view, the concept of conducting public hearing and of imposing a time limit were incompatible.

5. The Deputy Secretary for Transport (DS for T) agreed that it was necessary to balance the interests of objectors and the general public. He noted MTRC and KCRC’s concern about the need for a time limit in handling objections. He considered that this could be done by administrative means having regard to the scale of individual projects. A time limit of around one year would appear reasonable. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Lands) (PAS for PEL) added that it would not be in the interest of the Government to prolong the construction of railways as the Government would have to inject more equity. Theoretically, it would be possible to impose a statutory time limit in handling fundamental objections to a proposed railway scheme; technically it would be difficult to differentiate between these objections and objections to compensation. Nevertheless, PAS for PEL agreed that although the existing mechanism had operated reasonably well in the past, it was possible to build in a safeguard administratively which was consistent with a proposed statutory time limit. To facilitate members’ consideration on the estimated time required for land resumption, the Government Engineer/Railway Development (GE/RD) undertook to advise members on the number of lots resumed and graves cleared or relocated in the Route 3 (country park) project.

New Territories Heung Yee Kuk (NTHYK)

(Paper No. CB(1)1033/96-97(01) - submission from New Territories Heung Yee Kuk)

6. Mr LAM Kwok-cheong, Mr HEUNG Cheuk-kei and Mr YIP Moon-wah highlighted NTHYK’s views contained in their submission at the Chairman’s invitation. In brief, Mr LAM considered that affected parties whose applications for land resumption were refused by the Lands Tribunal should be entitled to compensation for diminution in the value of land. The ambit of clause 28 regarding resumption of land on application should include land directly affected by the railway construction, adjacent or contiguous land, and land the usage of which would be adversely affected by the railway project, such as obstruction and noise impacts. Clause 27 regarding the powers of the Building Authority on control of building plans and commencement of works should also be extended to cover small houses. On the procedures for lodging objections, Mr HEUNG advised that the railway schemes and the scope of land to be resumed should be considered by the Town Planning Board (TPB) prior to gazettal. The objection mechanism proposed in the Bill was inadequate and should be revised along the line in the Town Planning Ordinance, Cap. 131 (TPO). Whilst NTHYK agreed that there should be hearings for objections and that these should be attended by Government officials, professionals and affected parties, it was of the view that such hearings should not be held in open. Regarding compensation, Mr YIP opined that applicants or owners of small house affected by land resumption should be compensated. Provisions in the Crown Lands Resumption Ordinance (CLRO), Cap.124, for provisional payment and payment of interest and professional services should be incorporated in the Bill. Section 12(c) of CLRO should be repealed and replaced by a new provision to provide for a new basis for calculating compensation for affected parties.

7. A member opined that given that TPB had yet to resolve around 2,000 cases, NTHYK’s proposal would create additional work for TPB and might delay a railway scheme. In addition, an Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) would not include such detailed information as the actual alignment of a new railway project. Mr LAM clarified that a proposed railway scheme should be shown in an OZP and subject to public consultation and objection. However, under the proposal in the Bill, the alignment of a railway scheme had already been confirmed by the time it was shown in an OZP. This would in effect preclude members of the public from lodging objections under TPO. This being the case, a less satisfactory objection mechanism proposed in the Bill would prevail over a better one in the TPO. NTHYK therefore suggested that the objection mechanism in the Bill should be revised to mirror that in TPO, and should this suggestion be agreed to a railway scheme needed not go through TPO procedures. He further pointed out that TPB held bi-weekly meetings which was the root cause for the backlog. Should a dedicated group be appointed solely to hear objections to a proposed railway project, he envisaged no difficulty in dealing with all objections in a timely manner. PAS for PEL responded that a railway scheme was a strategic transport link which went beyond the scope of TPO and deserved an independent system for publication and objection. He also affirmed that once a railway project was approved under the statutory process stipulated in the Bill, this would be exempted from further examination by TPB.

8. On the procedures for serving notices as stipulated in clause 44 of the Bill, Mr YIP commented that the proposed arrangement mirrored that in CLRO which was considered satisfactory. NTHYK had updated records on graves in rural areas and addresses of the deceased families which should be useful to the Administration in expediting land resumption. However, NTHYK was not satisfied with the proposal that a person having a compensatible interest in land to be resumed had to submit claims for compensation within one year. He suggested that the Government should take the initiative to offer compensation. Hon Albert HO Chun-yan echoed that he disagreed with the proposal to submit claims for compensation within only one year.

9. Some members considered it necessary to impose a time limit for resolving objections. They had reservations in achieving this by administrative means. A member suggested that the Administration might make reference to the Town Planning White Bill which proposed a statutory period of nine months for handling objection. In response, DS for T undertook to consider members’ view. PAS for PEL added that some suggestions made by NTHYK were relating to the general land resumption and compensation issues which were not unique to the Bill. He undertook to provide a written response to NTHYK’s submission.

III Clause-by-clause examination of the Bill

(Paper No. CB(1)1033/96-97(02) - comments from the Assistant Legal Adviser on the Administration’s response to members’ concerns raised at the meeting on 24 January 1997
Paper No. CB(1)1033/96-97(03) - concerns raised by members at the meeting on 28 February 1997
Paper No. CB(1)1033/96-97(04) - response of the Administration to CB(1)1033/96-97(03)
Paper No. CB(1)800/96-97(03) - summary table prepared by the Assistant Legal Adviser)

10. Members agreed to discuss a paper tabled by the Administration on proposed reporting structure for handling objections to the Western Corridor Railway project, and defer examination of the Bill clause-by-clause to the next meeting.

11. DS for T briefed members on the proposal. He explained that under the existing mechanism, objections would be handled mainly by the Highways Department with the assistance of District Offices and Lands Department. In order to establish a more transparent system to deal with objections, the Administration proposed to introduce performance pledges for acknowledgement of objections, contacting objectors and providing a written response to all objections. As far as the WCR project was concerned, a new reporting structure would be set up under which a task force under the Transport Branch would oversee objections. Periodic reports would be made to the Subcommittee on WCR of the Transport Panel. Three rounds of consultation would be held prior to gazettal of the project. The first round had already commenced. The second round would start in May 1997 when KCRC had drawn up the proposed alignment. The last around would be conducted when the interim reports of the relevant environmental impact assessment and transport studies were available. Where the Administration envisaged that a large number of residents in a locality would be affected by the project, the Administration would actively liaise with them to address their concerns. Results of consultation would be duly considered by the Administration and KCRC.

12. Some members were concerned that the proposed reporting structure would encourage objectors to lodge their cases with the Subcommittee on WCR and this would not be in accord with the original purpose of setting up the Subcommittee. A member was also worried that such an arrangement would politicize the issue. In response, DS for T said that this reporting structure was proposed with a view to addressing members’ concerns on WCR project and keeping them informed of what was going on. He advised that the Administration would provide written progress reports to the Subcommittee and discuss with members should it be considered necessary. He affirmed in response to a member that the proposed task force would not comprise non-officials, nor handle objections directly. It would only monitor the progress. If non-officials were included, this would have implications for other legislation and the Administration would have to consider this carefully. DS for T added that the new reporting structure was only a preliminary proposal subject to the availability of financial resources. Regarding consultation at a regional level, PAS for T advised that the Administration had established good district networks with the assistance of District Offices. Consultation with Mei Foo Sun Chuen residents regarding the interface with the MTR Tsuen Wan line was one such example.

13. As regards the level of officers handling objections, GE/RD referred members to the arrangement for the Route 3 (country park) project under which objections were firstly handled by Senior Engineers headed by a Government Engineer in the Highways Department. The Deputy Director of Highways made recommendations on these objections to the Transport Branch which in turn submitted these to the Governor-in-Council.

IV Any other business

14. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:40 p.m.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
13 August 1997

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