III. Other Policies and Programmes
Major Planning Studies
68. I have stressed that we need to respond to change by refining our economic policies and programmes. We must also plan to meet the needs of a growing population by providing a stable land supply and a high quality living environment. We are pushing ahead with planning and land use studies for Lantau, the Northwest and Northeast New Territories, Hong Kong Island South and Lamma Island. A study on the Southeast New Territories will explore the area's potential as a centre of recreation and tourism. In parallel we will review the structure and strategic functions of our inner city, with the focus on devising a mass-transit based development strategy. We will work towards an environmentally-friendly transport system and an efficient land use pattern to create a more balanced distribution of people and jobs.
Meeting Housing Needs
Recent Developments in the Residential Property Market
69. Property is one of the most important components of the economy. A good home is also an important factor in maintaining the quality of life, and the residential property market in particular serves as both a major vehicle for the personal investment of wealth and a public barometer of social stability.
70. The sharp fall in property prices in the past year has led to a decrease in asset values and has hit public confidence. If this trend continues, it will put pressure on the banking system. I believe that it is now necessary and desirable for property prices to stabilise. As a Government we cannot set price levels, nor can we dictate the degree of fluctuation in the market. But as the largest single supplier of land in Hong Kong we undoubtedly have an influence on the long-term pricing of property.
71. When I announced in last year's Policy Address the target of producing 85 000 flats annually, I was setting a long-term housing target and looking towards our long-term land production programme. The announcement was made against the background of an over-heated economy and rapid rises in property prices. Our competitiveness as an economy was threatened and too many families could not afford to buy their own homes. However, the environment has changed dramatically since last October. The economy has contracted, interest rates are higher and unemployment has risen. This has led to a sharp drop in the near-term demand for private sector residential property.
72. As a result of this economic re-adjustment we have had to look again at the key components of the housing sector, namely: public rental housing; home-ownership scheme (HOS) flats; "sandwich" class housing; and the private residential sector.
73. In the public housing sector, the long-term production target set in 1997 was based on a programme to provide on average 50 000 units annually for the five years from 1997. This programme includes both public rental and HOS units built by the Housing Authority, as well as Housing Society flats. When I delivered last year's Policy Address, work on building some of these flats had already begun.
74. In respect of the public rental component, the Government remains fully committed to ensuring that no household in genuine need of housing should be denied the right to decent accommodation and within a reasonable period of time. We have pledged to reduce the average waiting time for a public rental unit to three years by 2005, and we are on target to achieve this.
75. As regards the HOS component of the public housing programme, we will proceed with the sales programme largely as planned. However, we will closely monitor the effect of our HOS flat sales programme on the home ownership market, and fine-tune the programme as necessary to ensure overall market stability.
Sandwich Class Housing
76. As to middle income earners, or the "sandwich" class, as many good-quality flats in the private sector are now affordable to them we have decided to suspend the building of flats under our schemes for this group, with the exception of projects which we have already started work on. However, we will continue to provide loans for downpayment to allow the sandwich class a wider choice of home in the private sector.
Private Residential Housing
77. Turning now to the private residential market, the 35 000 flats to be supplied by the private sector within the overall long-term flat supply target of 85 000 units annually was projected with regard to the supply and demand situation at the time. I see it as our first priority to do what we can to promote stability in this sector. Nonetheless, the actual number of flats built annually by the private sector over the next five years is likely to vary according to market demand, and in line with developers' own commercial considerations.
Financial Assistance for Home Ownership
78. To promote home ownership we will continue to provide financial assistance to home buyers. Currently, we do this through the Home Starter Loan Scheme, the Home Purchase Loan Scheme and the Sandwich Class Housing Loan Scheme. These schemes have proved to be very popular. I have asked the Secretary for Housing to rationalise these schemes and to ensure that they continue to provide the appropriate level of assistance to households requiring help, as well as making the best use of public funds.
The Way Forward
79. Earlier this year we imposed a nine-month moratorium on land sales up to March 1999. We will decide early in 1999 whether or not to lift this moratorium, having regard to the need to ensure stability in property market. In the longer term, the Government's focus will be on ensuring that we produce sufficient land to be able to meet our needs. This will help to create a land bank which will provide the foundation for a stable market. Within the next ten years, our population will grow by about one million people. In our current population there are still many families in need of decent housing. Others will in time want to buy their own homes. Short-term difficulties must not, therefore, deflect us from our fundamental housing policy objectives, which are -
81. The quality of life in many of the older parts of Hong Kong contrasts unfavourably with that in our new towns. Buildings are run-down, hygiene is poor and there is a lack of social cohesion. We cannot allow this situation to continue. We must improve the urban landscape of Hong Kong by replacing these areas with modern accommodation served by sufficient open space, a full range of community facilities and a good quality living environment.
82. In the past we have carried out a number of urban renewal projects which have been successful in improving parts of the older urban areas. But we need to take a more strategic and comprehensive approach to the problem. An extensive study, conducted over the past year, of the old built-up areas of Hong Kong has shown that there are sites covering a total of 76 hectares which require renewal or rehabilitation. The study has also shown that early action needs to be taken to improve areas occupied by some 1 400 old buildings accommodating 35 000 households. If we are to make good progress with urban renewal we need to find a way of shortening the time taken to implement projects, which in some cases take up to 12 years to complete. In the longer term we will also need to tackle the problem of redeveloping old industrial areas.
83. I am keen that we should address these problems quickly, and I have asked the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands to formulate an Urban Renewal Strategy which will provide a comprehensive planning framework for urban renewal. In parallel we will improve current procedures so that we can carry out projects more quickly and on a larger scale. To help in this regard, we will seek to establish as soon as possible an Urban Renewal Authority with statutory powers to make plans and acquire land more effectively and efficiently. Such an Authority must be transparent and accountable in its operation. It must also be able to implement the Urban Renewal Strategy with minimum delay, the aim being to reduce the time taken to complete projects to an average of six years.
84. We are now finalising our initial proposals for an Urban Renewal Strategy and drawing up the suggested terms of reference, powers and operational guidelines for the new Authority. We are also studying how to improve the financial viability of projects, and we shall explore with the Housing Authority how we might seek its assistance in re-housing those affected by the projects. It is crucial that we make an early start in this area. We aim to introduce an appropriate bill into this Council early next year, and look forward to Members' support for our proposals.
85. A long-term urban renewal strategy will help us eventually to remove many of the hazards that are presented by older buildings in Hong Kong. But we still need to deal with the fire safety and structural deficiencies of these buildings today. Following public consultation earlier this year, we have drawn up a programme to improve fire safety in private buildings. We will work first on upgrading fire safety measures in old mixed-use commercial and residential buildings, and then turn our attention to residential and industrial buildings. The Secretary for Security will prepare legislation in 1999 to help us implement the programme. We will also inspect electrical installations in 4 000 buildings in 1999 so as to identify necessary improvements. We will prosecute owners who do not comply with the statutory fire safety requirements.
86. To encourage proper upkeep of these older buildings, at the beginning of August we launched a Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme to help building owners undertake inspections and repair work. In 1999, we shall develop a Code of Practice for owners on the inspection, assessment and repair of buildings.
87. Many areas of our city are built on or below natural or man-made slopes. We must ensure that these slopes are properly maintained so as to minimise the risk of land-slips. In the next ten years we plan to step up our work on slope improvements, and we will increase the manpower in government departments to allow them to maintain every slope in their care. We aim to be second to none in the world in our use of the latest skills, techniques and methods of investigation and risk assessment. In this way we will provide the best possible protection to the community from the risks of slope failure.
88. I have described how our economy will benefit from more investment in innovation, in our key value-adding industries and in infrastructure, and from a more stable property market. I now turn to another important element in improving our future, namely a commitment to investing in our human capital.
89. The starting point for the development of an enlightened, knowledge-based society is good education. To take Hong Kong forward in an increasingly competitive world, we must give education top priority. In 1999-2000, education will continue to be the single biggest item of recurrent expenditure. Despite the economic downturn, total recurrent spending in this area will rise to nearly $44 billion.
The Education Commission's Review of the System
90. The recent review of educational advisory bodies has re-affirmed the Education Commission's leadership role in co-ordinating the work of these bodies in helping the Government to set a strategic direction for education policy. Shortly after the 1997 Policy Address, the Education Commission began a review of the structure of our entire formal education system, from pre-primary to tertiary level. The Commission's work focuses on key issues related to the academic structure. These include the overall aims of education and how they relate to the nature and duration of the various stages in the system, from pre-primary to tertiary level. The review will also look at issues related to the curriculum and to methods of assessing academic achievement. The Commission's work in this regard is of great importance, and I look forward to receiving its preliminary findings in 1999.
Reform of the Education Department
91. In May this year we received a final report on the review of the management and organisation of the Education Department. In July we began public consultation on the review findings. Briefly, the main findings of the review were that -
92. In last year's Policy Address I set out a number of measures aimed at improving the quality of education in primary and secondary schools by having the schools take greater responsibility for the teaching environment. Among these was the setting up of the $5 billion Quality Education Fund, under which schools can apply for grants to raise their standards through innovation. So far more than 500 projects have received a total of over $350 million from the fund. These projects will benefit over 500 000 students in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools.
93. From 1999, we will also provide grants to all public sector schools to help them draw up management programmes which will give them more flexibility, as well as greater responsibility for improving the quality of education. Altogether these schools will receive an estimated total of over $500 million in grants over the four years to 2003.
High Quality Teaching
94. We must also redouble our efforts to improve the quality of teaching in our schools. Our teachers and principals are the backbone of our education system, and their skill and commitment are essential to the success of this system. I announced in the 1997 Policy Address our goal of requiring all new teachers to be trained graduates. As a first step we will develop the Hong Kong Institute of Education into a degree-awarding teacher training institute. Currently the Institute offers 2 400 Certificate of Education places. In the 1999-2000 academic year we will start progressively to upgrade these places, and provide instead places at degree or above level at both the Institute and other tertiary institutions.
95. To improve further the quality and professionalism of our teachers, we will -
Whole-day Primary Schools
96. Last year I announced that, as an interim target we aimed to have 60% of our primary school children enjoying whole-day schooling by 2002. We are on course to achieve this target. Our longer term aim is for virtually all primary school students to enjoy whole-day schooling from the start of academic year 2007-2008. In pursuing this aim we must recognise constraints such as the availability of sufficient school sites in individual districts and possible shifts in population growth and distribution. Also, reluctantly we shall have to continue with the interim measure of slightly increasing class size, in the interests of achieving the important aim of full whole-day schooling.
Medium of Instruction
97. We remain fully committed to the promotion of mother-tongue teaching. First, because expert opinion world wide is that students learn best in their mother-tongue. Secondly, we are committed to improving the ability of our students to use Chinese and English. To help Chinese medium schools improve their teaching of English, we are -
I realise that the implementation of the mother-tongue learning initiative caused some concern in the community. While we will continue to adhere to the principles behind this initiative, we have undertaken to review progress within three years to examine further how to promote mother-tongue teaching and improve students' ability in the use of both languages.
98. For many years, public sector schools have provided most of our primary and secondary school places. They have contributed considerably to educating our children. Nonetheless, we recognise that at this stage of Hong Kong's development there are good arguments for injecting more variety into our education system, for giving schools greater scope for innovation and for allowing parents a wider choice by fostering growth in the number of quality private schools. To facilitate expansion in the private school sector, we will -
99. In the coming year we will begin a programme to provide air-conditioning in 17 schools for physically and severely mentally handicapped children regardless of whether these schools are affected by noise or other environmental nuisance. By so doing, we hope to reduce the discomfort that these children bear due to their physical condition, and thus to improve their learning interest.
100. This year we will give a higher rate of subsidy to kindergartens which employ a greater percentage of qualified teachers than required by current standards. This initiative will encourage kindergartens to achieve the target of 60% of teachers being Qualified Kindergarten Teachers before the 2000-2001 school year.
Learning through Information Technology
101. To promote further the use of IT in education, in the coming year we have ear-marked funds totalling $630 million in order to -
102. To remain competitive we must be skillful and versatile, and our higher education system has to reflect this need. We will encourage our tertiary institutions to build on their existing strengths by developing centres of excellence. This will help ensure that they keep pace with rising international standards so as to serve better Hong Kong's future economic
and social needs. The tertiary sector's decision to offer places to students who excel in areas other than pure academic performance sends a clear signal that our society values attributes such as athletic or artistic talent. We will look to this arrangement becoming a regular feature of the admission system.
103. To enhance our status as a regional centre for higher education, it is our policy to admit non-local students to our higher education programmes. Starting from the 1999-2000 academic year, the overall quota of a maximum of 580 first-year, non-local undergraduate students will include 150 outstanding Mainland students. The admission of non-local students facilitates the cross-fertilisation of skills and ideas, injects an element of healthy competition for local students and broadens our students' outlook on the Mainland and the region as a whole.
104. As our society becomes more knowledge-based, continued education becomes more than just the preserve of keen learners. It plays an important part in helping us to make progress in society. I look to Hong Kong developing further as a learning-based community, and the work of the Open University is leading the way in this regard. I encourage other institutes also to provide continuous learning facilities for our community's benefit. We will do our best to let everyone have a chance to upgrade their skills if they so wish.
105. Because of the changing needs of society and the economy, the type of manpower required in Hong Kong will vary at different stages of our development. We must review our manpower and training policies carefully so as to ensure that Hong Kong has a well-trained, adaptable and versatile workforce which can meet the needs of the economy and contribute to our overall competitiveness. In 1999 we will complete a study of manpower forecasting best practice with a view to developing a forecast model which will serve our needs for the next ten years. We will continue to study the manpower and training needs of our key industries, focusing in the coming year on the information technology sector.
More and Better Training
106. With the aim of helping our workforce acquire new skills or upgrade their existing skills, we will work with the Vocational Training Council (VTC) and the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) to assist these organisations in improving their services. In this regard, the VTC proposes to unify the existing two Technical Colleges and seven Technical Institutes by the year 2002 to form a single academic and training institution, the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education. The new Institute will provide courses which will be more attuned to the needs of the economy, and will also promote the image of vocational education and training as an attractive and viable alternative to traditional academic education.
107. For the ERB, we will give the Board a grant of $500 million to enable it to expand its training capacity and improve the quality of its courses for the unemployed. In consultation with employers, the ERB will identify more job vacancies for special tailor-made training at the employer's workplace which in addition to vital working experience, also gives trainees a re-training allowance and 12 months' post-employment follow-up service.
108. To help ensure that both employed and unemployed people can benefit from a well-structured education and training ladder, we will develop a qualifications framework for programmes provided by the VTC and the ERB. This will provide an objective yardstick for assessing the skills standards of trainees and will help secure employers' confidence in and recognition of the qualifications. We aim to draw up initial proposals by the end of 1999.
109. There is great concern in the community for the problems faced by the unemployed. I share that concern, and the Government will do its utmost to improve the prospects of all our citizens who are looking for work. As well as implementing to the full measures developed by the Task Force on Employment, we will boost our support networks for the jobless, in particular young people, with the aim of helping them to find work more quickly. We will strengthen the Job Matching Programme in the Labour Department and upgrade our re-training services. Realistically, the employment situation will not improve until our economy starts to recover. We will nonetheless work hard to maximise opportunities for all those currently without a job, by bringing forward the start date for public works projects and promoting the tourism industry so as to help generate more job openings in the relevant sectors. I hope that the unemployed will not become discouraged and that they will make the best use of the training opportunities which the Government and other organisations provide, in order to equip themselves with new skills. I am sure that by doing so they will be able to find work.
110. The women of Hong Kong have made great achievements in building up the family and contributing to the economy and the community as a whole. We have established the Equal Opportunities Commission, enacted the Sex Discrimination Ordinance and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance and faithfully implemented the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These are important steps but our efforts will not stop here. We will work to ensure that women can also reach their full potential through education, training and community support.
111. The qualities, skills and sense of belonging of our young people will determine what Hong Kong will become. I look to our younger generation to search continuously for knowledge, to be creative and to play an active role in the community. I encourage our young people to take pride in their Chinese heritage, yet also to develop an international perspective, seeking not only to assert their rights as individuals, but also to meet their obligations to the wider community.
112. The Commission on Youth has completed its study on youth development and mapped out the direction for our young people to follow in order to realise their full potential. In the coming year we will work with the Commission and other organisations to reinforce and promote positive values among young people; to provide programmes on leadership and life-skills training; and to create opportunities for voluntary work and exchange programmes with other countries. I also encourage our young people to take part in more activities which will deepen their knowledge of the Mainland. To provide a focal point for youth development activities, the Chai Wan Community Centre will be re-developed into a facility specifically for this purpose. I endorse the Commission's call for the whole community to take ownership of the challenge of developing our young people's qualities. This will require the efforts of parents, teachers and ultimately, young people themselves.
113. I have described the policies and programmes which we will pursue to help us stimulate economic growth and to prepare our human capital to respond to the challenge of a changing world. I would now like to discuss how we will work to improve the quality of life in Hong Kong.
A Better Environment
114. In recent years we have witnessed a deterioration in the quality of our natural environment. Our surrounding waters and our air have become more polluted and our city is dirtier. As we work to take advantage of the opportunities which the future holds, we should be satisfied with nothing less than a world class environment. The Government will step up its efforts to protect the environment to enable our people to enjoy a better and healthier quality of life. It will also help enhance our reputation as a pleasant destination for tourists and for international business travellers, and will make Hong Kong a more attractive place for highly-skilled professionals to live in. We will work closely with our counterparts on the Mainland, particularly in Guangdong Province, to achieve our common goal of improving the environment.
115. The two most pressing problems which we face are the pollution of our coastal waters and our air. To help tackle the problem of water pollution, we will look to develop options for the further improvement of the strategic sewage system which serves the main urban area. These options have been drawn up with the National Environmental Protection Agency and our counterparts in Guangdong Province with a view to ensuring that protection of the local marine environment will also contribute to the protection of neighbouring waters. Pending further consideration of these options and detailed work on the preferred scheme, we will seek this Council's agreement to fund other major projects to improve sewage collection and treatment, such as -
117. We expect to spend $12 billion on our sewage programmes over the next five years. In addition, we will proceed with the implementation of Stage II of the strategic sewage disposal scheme once the preferred scheme has been chosen. This represents a major investment in our future. It is also an investment for today, providing employment in construction and helping to safeguard those who make their living from the sea.
118. I have noted with concern the poor air quality as measured by street-level monitors in recent days. We must deal with this problem as a matter of priority. The most pressing issue is to reduce air pollution from particulates in diesel vehicle emissions, as this is a direct present threat to our health. Although they are not the only source of these emissions, taxis produce 30% of all particulates given off by diesel vehicles. Our experience of working with the taxi trade, motor trade and fuel companies on a pilot scheme shows that it is feasible to convert the taxi fleet from diesel to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fuel. I am now therefore setting out our intention that all new taxis should operate on LPG fuel from the end of the year 2000. We will work with the trade and take all necessary steps to ensure that the supporting infrastructure required to support this initiative will be put in place.
119. Other vehicle emissions also have to be tackled if we are to enjoy cleaner air in our city. New standards for light diesel vehicles which came into effect last week should reduce harmful emissions from individual vehicles by up to 55%. In 1999 we will ban the sale of leaded petrol. We will also introduce more stringent testing of and enforcement action against smoky vehicles, as well as working with the minibus trade to encourage them to move to using cleaner fuel.
120. We are conscious of the need to liaise with our counterparts in Guangdong Province with a view to improving the air quality of the whole Pearl River Delta area. Together with our Mainland colleagues we will initiate a study of the air quality in the Delta region, with the aim of developing improvement measures from 2000 onwards. I am determined that the quality of our air should not be a limiting factor on the quality of our lives.
121. In the past year we have developed plans for waste reduction and assessed how to put in place a better waste management framework. We will shortly publish a ten-year plan for waste reduction, setting out targets for improving efficiency. Our key aim will be to encourage the community to produce less waste, thereby conserving resources and helping to make Hong Kong a cleaner city. We will also look to maximise efficiency in waste collection and disposal, and to promote greater private sector involvement in re-cycling materials and handling waste in an environmentally responsible manner.
Use of our Energy Resources
122. A place which develops as quickly and intensely as Hong Kong is bound to be a voracious consumer of energy and of other resources. It is important for Hong Kong's economy and environment that these resources should not be used wastefully. The efficient use of energy is a practical, economically sensible step that every person in Hong Kong can take to be environmentally responsible and save money. To improve energy efficiency and conservation within Government, we are carrying out audits for the use of energy in our buildings, and we will publish building energy codes. All new Government buildings will be designed for high energy efficiency. We are also looking at the potential for developing waste-to-energy incineration so as to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel.
123. We are now conducting a study on Sustainable Development for the 21st Century, which will give us better tools to identify the consequences of the choices we make for developing our society. I welcome discussion by this Council and by the community of the measures we will need to adopt to make Hong Kong a truly sustainable city. To stimulate the process of community education and debate, in 1999 the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands will issue a green paper on environmental policy. I urge everyone to raise their awareness of the issue of environmental protection, to examine the options we will put forward and to consider the choices which we must make in order to steer Hong Kong towards a better environment for us all.
Promoting our Culture and Heritage
124. An improved, sustainable natural environment will make Hong Kong a more attractive place in which to live and work. To foster a sense of belonging and identity, we need to promote our heritage, which is a valuable cultural legacy. This involves the protection of historic buildings and archaeological sites, of which some are more than 6 000 years old.
125. Since reunification there has been a noticeable trend among our people of wanting to know more about our country's proud culture, history and heritage. I hope this will continue. We will also look to strengthen Hong Kong's own unique culture which embodies a successful blend of the best of the East and West.
The Arts and Sport
126. The arts scene in Hong Kong reflects our distinctive cultural background. We regularly present programmes which showcase some of the best artistic talent from around the world, the Mainland and Hong Kong itself. We have invested significantly in the arts in Hong Kong and will continue to support arts development by ensuring that we have in place effective administrative and funding arrangements.
127. It is essential that we continue to support the development of sport in Hong Kong. Without question, participation in sport benefits our health and helps to generate a sense of well-being and a cohesiveness in society. Hong Kong's participation in the 1997 National Games was a clear example of how sport can foster our sense of identity and collective achievement, and I look forward to our participation in the 1998 Asian Games generating that same pride in our community. We will continue to support our athletes, and to develop more opportunities for the public to enjoy sport and recreation.