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February 17th, 2016:

Legco report slams ‘unacceptable’ management of vacant school premises in Hong Kong

Education Bureau and Lands Department both criticised for failure to deliver comprehensive policy to utilise valuable land Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim has admitted there is room for improvement in the way his bureau handles vacant school premises, after a Legislative Council committee report slammed its management of the situation as “unacceptable”. The report, published yesterday by the Legco public accounts committee, also criticised the Lands Department.

“Despite the scarcity of land resources, the Education Bureau and the Lands Department have not effectively managed and allocated the vacant school premises under their respective purviews,” the report, which followed up on November’s Audit Commission, said.

The audit watchdog had earlier found that more than 100 closed schools had been lying empty and unused for up to 36 years. Among them, 29 were overseen by the Education Bureau and 73 by the Lands Department. In its report yesterday, the committee expressed “grave dismay” that the bureau had failed to create a comprehensive policy on the effective use of vacant school premises.

In response, Ng said 14 of the 29 premises had been put into use again and nine had been reserved for future educational uses. Four had already been retrieved by the government and nine were on private land, meaning the government would need some time to handle the situation.

“I agree that there is room for improvement in identifying, allocating and managing vacant school premises. We are reviewing the mechanism and we expect it to be completed in the middle of this year,” Ng said. For the 73 premises overseen by the Lands Department, director of lands Bernadette Linn said in December that 24 were being planned for uses by other government offices or interested organisations; 18 were on private land where the school sponsoring bodies had no obligation to deliver possession to the government.

Meanwhile, the committee also criticised the Environment Bureau and the Environmental Protection Department for their “lack of determination” in executing plans to manage municipal solid waste in a “professional and effective manner”.

The government had set a policy to cut municipal solid waste disposal at landfills from 60 per cent in 2004 to 25 per cent by 2014. But as of 2013, 63 per cent of the waste was still heading for dumps.
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Public outcry triggers scrapping of Tsim Sha Tsui harborfront revamp

The government made a surprise announcement today that it will significantly scale back a plan to revitalise the Tsim Sha Tsui harborfront.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it is scrapping the proposal to open restaurants, observation decks and a film gallery on the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade.

The revamp was approved by the Town Planning Board in August last year. The work was originally expected to take more than two years.

LCSD says it will revise the design to make it simple and maintain the area as “a passive public open space.’’

In a statement, a spokesman for the department said the change was made in response to views from the public consultation last year.

It said the majority of the respondents wished to have fewer structures to be built on the promenade so that people can stroll on a more spacious area and enjoy unobstructed views of Victoria Harbour. Respondents also expressed the wish to shorten the period during which the promenade has to be closed for renovation.

Under the new plan, all trees will be retained. Only basic improvement works will be carried out. The period during which the promenade has to be closed for renovation is expected to be reduced by about half.

The statement also said LCSD will manage the facilities.—RTHK