Over the past 30 years, skyscrapers continue to outline Hong Kong's skylines while satellite new towns scattered here and there, decorate the one home that belongs to many lives. The rapid development of this vibrant city is not only a testimony to Hong Kong's prosperity but also evidence of an unyielding commitment to build Hong Kong's reputation as Asia's world city.
With the vision to make Hong Kong an international city of world prominence, the Planning Department has been working hard to ensure the sustainable development of Hong Kong and in particular, to preserve its pulsating economy, and combine quality living and business environment, with long-term social progress.
"Making Hong Kong a better place to live and work in has been an uncompromising mission," says Tam Po-yiu, assistant director of planning, technical services division, Planning Department.
Mr Tam joined the Planning Department in 1973 and since then has become a witness to Hong Kong's transformation. "Many town planners worked in a multi-discipline environment then in close collaboration with external parties such as engineers and architects under what was then the New Territories Development Department," he recalls. The pace of work was fast because all through the 70's and the 80's, Hong Kong was developing at full speed. Projects for business and industrial development thrived and housing estates mushroomed in the city as well as in the New Territories. "New plans were made to reflect the rapid business and social changes. The rate of development then was somewhat like the rapid urbanisation that is happening nowadays in many places in mainland China," Mr Tam notes.
Now operating under the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau, the Planning Department is responsible for the preparation of town plans that guide the proper use and development of land. The department mainly comprises two functional branches: the territorial & sub-regional branch, and the district branch.
"One principal criteria in designating the types of land uses in specific zones is the environmental compatibility," Mr Tam explains. "When accessing a development proposal, we must take into consideration the potential impacts on the environment and the existing peripheral infrastructure such as sewerage systems, water supply and transportation."
The territorial and sub-regional planning branch is responsible for transport studies, establishing planning standards, technical services, data analysis, information systems and long-term strategic planning such as the much talked about Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy.
Meanwhile, the district planning branch comprises different divisions dealing with district and local planning matters, urban renewal and development control. The branch also provides services to the Town Planning Board, which is a statutory body made up of 40 members who are non-civil servants. They include lawyers, environmentalists, university professors and professionals from key industries.
Advanced information technology has nevertheless made the job of the planning department easier. For example, the technical services division can easily analyse the land supply situation by using techniques built on a geographical information system. It has helped substantially in speeding up and ensuring the accuracy in the planning process of further development or redevelopment.
Advanced technology has on the other hand brought increased demands on service quality and quantity. Better communications and greater transparency are therefore required. For these particular reasons, besides the existing informative homepage, the department has developed an award-winning Statutory Planning Portal, which allows the public access to the latest statutory plans through their personal computers.
The Hong Kong Infrastructure Experience exhibition is also staged at the Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery at the low block of City Hall to promote public understanding of Hong Kong's major planning and infrastructure projects via an extensive range of audio-visual presentations.
Series of out-reach programmes including school visits and public exhibitions are continuously conducted. "We need to be more responsive and approachable," Mr
Tam says. "Public consultation sessions can help us obtain useful information of what is truly needed for the development of Hong Kong."
Hong Kong has long departed from the industrial economy stage and transformed into a customer service focused financial and IT economy. As the life of Hong Kong changed, the face of the city did too.