Urban Council (UrbCo) was a municipal council in Hong Kong
responsible for municipal services on
Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon
(including New Kowloon). These services were provided by the council's
executive arm, the Urban Services Department. The equivalent body for
New Territories was the Regional Council.
The council was founded as the
Sanitary Board in 1883. It was renamed
Urban Council when new legislation was passed in 1936 expanding
its mandate. In 1973 the council was reorganised under non-government
control and became financially autonomous. Originally composed mainly
of ex officio and appointed members, by the time the
Urban Council was
disbanded following the Handover it was composed entirely of members
elected by universal suffrage.
2 Duties and services
2.1 Arts and culture
2.1.1 Cultural events
2.1.3 Arts groups
2.2 Recreation and sport
6 External links
Urban Council was first established as the
Sanitary Board in 1883.
In 1887, a system of partial elections was established, allowing
selected individuals to vote for members of the Board. On 1 March
Sanitary Board was reconstituted to carry out the work which
remained much the same until World War Two broke out. The board was
Urban Council in 1936 when the government passed the Urban
Council Ordinance, which gave legal motive to the already expanding
range of services provided by the Council.
After the Second World War, the Council returned to its pre-war form
but without any elected members. The work of the Sanitary Department
of the government began to separate out from the medical and health
service. On 28 May 1946, the Council met for the first time after the
Japanese occupation. It was given power to carry out all its old
duties – cleaning, burying the dead, running bath houses and public
lavatories, hawker control – as well as some new ones, such as the
use of bathing beaches throughout Hong Kong.
Only in May 1952 did elections return to the Urban Council. Two
members were elected. Later in 1952, the number of elected members was
doubled, their terms of office extended to two years and the franchise
By April 1956 half of the members of the
Urban Council were elected,
but by a minority of the population. A voter had to be at least 21
years of age, to have lived in
Hong Kong for at least 3 years and to
be qualified in at least one of 23 categories, which included
educational qualifications (School Certificate Examination or
equivalent), be a juror, salaried taxpayer, or a member of certain
professional organisations. More details can be found in Schedule 1 of
Urban Council Ordinance (Cap. 101, Laws of Hong Kong). It was
estimated that in 1970 there were 250,000 eligible voters and in
1981 the number had increased to 400,000 – 500,000.
In the 1960s, the duties of the
Urban Council continued to multiply.
The City Hall in Central was opened in 1962, followed by the first
multi-storey markets in Jardine's Bazaar in March 1963.
In 1973, the Council was reorganised under non-government control. It
was given financial autonomy, which meant the budget could be planned
without the approval of the Legislative Council. It was also no longer
primarily in charge of housing. From then onwards, there were no
government officials on the Council and both the chairman and
vice-chairman were elected among the 24 members. At the time, the
Council was the one which solely consisted of members of the public.
Source: Norman Miners, 1986, The Government and Politics of Hong Kong
registered voters who
voted in the election
Voting rate (%)
Source: Norman Miners, The government and politics of
Hong Kong (Hong
Kong; New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 224.
Prominent elected Urban Councilors included
Elsie Tu and Brook
Bernacchi of the Reform Club.
Urban Council celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1983. The
Urban Council Centenary Garden
Urban Council Centenary Garden was named to commemorate the occasion.
In the 1960s, the council proposed that its jurisdiction should be
expanded to encompass the entire colony, but this was not accepted.
Urban Services Department already provided services in the New
Territories despite the council not having jurisdiction there. In
New Territories Services Department was created (within the
Urban Services Department) as a dedicated unit to take up these
responsibilities. In 1986, a Regional Council was set up to serve the
New Territories (excluding New Kowloon), analogous to the Urban
New Territories Services Department was reorganised to
form the Regional Services Department, the executive arm of the
In 1994 the Council became fully elected based on universal and equal
After the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, the name was changed to
Provisional Urban Council, consisting of members of the pre-handover
Council, and new members were appointed by the Chief Executive.
Duties and services
Mong Kok Stadium
Urban Services Department Training School
Kowloon Walled City Park
Urban Council provided many services to the
Hong Kong people over
the years. The
Urban Services Department was the executive branch of
the Council to implement policies and services. In 1997, it had about
16,000 employees, according to its published leaflet of 'service
The Council's services included: recreational venues and activities,
libraries, museums, cultural and entertainment venues, ticketing, wet
markets, hawker registration and control, cremation, street cleansing,
issuing licenses, and operating abattoirs.
Arts and culture
Urban Council played a significant role in the artistic and
cultural development of Hong Kong.
It also managed the
Urban Council Public Libraries system in Hong Kong
Kowloon which, upon the dissolution of the municipal
councils, was merged with the Regional Council Public Libraries to
Hong Kong Public Libraries.
The Council held the Festival of Asian Arts every year since 1976. The
Council also sponsored the International Film Festival, which took
place annually mid-year and which gave
Hong Kong people a rare chance
to see a range of international film making, as well as Chinese films.
The Independent Short Film and Video Awards were founded in 1993.
Hong Kong Museum of Art
Hong Kong Museum of Art regularly exhibits Chinese and Western art
and frequently arranges art exchanges with overseas countries. The
Hong Kong Museum of History, once housed in
Kowloon Park, records
local history and oral tradition. It is now located at
Chatham Road in
Tsim Sha Tsui. The
Hong Kong Space Museum
Hong Kong Space Museum presents shows in the Space
Theatre and exhibitions on astronomy, nature and space exploration
The Council directly financed and often even managed many local arts
groups. In 1983, at "An Evening With the Council's Performing
Companies" – one of the events in the
Urban Council Centenary
Celebration – the then-council chairman
Hilton Cheong-Leen said,
"Together with the Government, the
Urban Council is committed to the
development of the arts in Hong Kong. We aim to do so at the
professional level so that gifted
Hong Kong citizens can develop their
artistic potential. We also aim to make available to all members of
the community a wide range of artistic performance for their enjoyment
and appreciation. And in the not too distant future we hope to see
Hong Kong recognised as a major international centre of the performing
Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra was established in 1977, under direct
financial support and management by the Urban Council.
Hong Kong Repertory Theatre was also founded in 1977 and was
directly financed and administered by the Urban Council. It aims to
promote and raise the standards of the theatrical "stage play" drama
Cantonese in the territory with professional actors, directors,
playwrights, administration, training and production.
Hong Kong Dance Company was established in May 1981, and was at
one time directly administered by the Urban Council. It aims to
combine classical and folk traditions of China with contemporary
international awareness. These groups were later taken over by the
Leisure and Cultural Services Department
Leisure and Cultural Services Department when the
Urban Council was
dissolved. In 2001, the groups were privatised and became limited
companies, but still receive funding from the government.
Recreation and sport
The Council operated sports grounds, parks, indoor games halls, and
public swimming pools.
See also: Hawkers in Hong Kong
The Council was responsible for street cleansing, refuse collection,
and pest control. It operated refuse collection points, public toilets
and bathhouses, and was responsible for rubbish bins throughout the
urban area. It was also responsible for the control of hawkers,
issuing hawker licences and operating hawker bazaars.
In early 1997, chief executive-designate
Tung Chee-hwa announced that
the two municipal councils would be disbanded on 1 July 1997 (the
Handover) and replaced by two provisional councils, with members
appointed by the government, that would serve until elections in 1999.
Tung said that those reappointed must "love China [and] love Hong
Kong" and refused to clarify whether democratic politicians met this
definition. The announcement caused a row at the Urban
Council and was unpopular with the public. Likewise, the
pre-handover government opposed China's decision to disband the two
councils and the 18 district boards, and to reintroduce appointed
seats, which had been abolished under democratic reforms.
The post-handover provisional executive council met in May 1997 and
drafted new legislation that would allow the chief executive-designate
to appoint members to the new provisional bodies. Three bills
re-introducing appointed seats to the post-handover municipal councils
and district boards were passed by the provisional legislature on 7
June 1997. The Urban Council, Regional Council and District Boards
(Amendment) Bills 1997 stipulated that
Tung Chee-hwa could appoint no
more than 50 seats to the provisional municipal councils.
Frederick Fung, chairman of the ADPL, called the bills a
"retrogression of democracy" while
Chan Kam-lam of the pro-Beijing DAB
asserted that "elections were divisive and appointments would
stabilise the community". Also on 1 July, elements of the Urban
Council Ordinance and Regional Council Ordinance were repealed to
allow the government to determine the composition and tenure of the
After the handover the council was disbanded and replaced with the
Provisional Urban Council, which comprised pre-handover councillors
plus new members appointed by the new government. The same was done
with the Regional Council. The government then announced that the
councils would be abolished in 1999. Both councils jointly objected to
this plan, putting forward an alternative merger proposal entitled
"One Council, One Department", which was not accepted by the
Both councils were dissolved on 31 December 1999 as planned. Within
days of the dissolution of the Urban Council, its distinctive symbol
was systematically removed from public sight, such as by pasting over
it with paper on all litter bins and information boards. Shortly
afterwards, all the litter bins were themselves discarded, replaced by
a similar design, but in green rather than purple. The duties of the
councils were taken up by two newly created government departments:
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Leisure and
Cultural Services Department.
The archives of the two municipal councils are held by the Hong Kong
Public Libraries, and are available online in digitised form.
Before 1973, the chairmanship was occupied by the Director of Urban
A. de O. Sales, 1973–1981
Hilton Cheong-Leen, 1981–1986
H.M.G. Forsgate, 1986-1991
Ronald Leung Ding-bong, 1991–1999
^ Lau 2002, p. 32.
^ Norman Miners. 1981. The Government and Politics of Hong Kong. Hong
Kong: Oxford University Press.
^ “Elected Urbco protest over reform plan,” in: South China
Morning Post, 1970
^ “Sing Tao Jih Pao,” in
Hong Kong Standard, 8 March 1981
^ CACV 1/2000
^ No, Kwai-yan (13 March 1997). "No firm answer from Tung". South
China Morning Post. p. 6.
^ Li, Angela (17 March 1997). "Number of members for bodies yet to be
decided". South China Morning Post. p. 5.
^ "Tung adds condition for handover survivors". South China Morning
Post. 2 February 1997. p. 2.
^ Li, Angela (5 February 1997). "Let councillors stay, says poll".
South China Morning Post. p. 6.
^ Li, Angela (18 March 1997). "Legislators reveal concern at
secondment". South China Morning Post.
^ Hon, May Sin-mi; Li, Angela (7 May 1997). "Power to appoint in
pipeline". South China Morning Post. p. 6.
^ a b "Appointed seats bills passed". South China Morning Post. 8 June
1997. p. 4.
^ "Laws to be scrapped". South China Morning Post. 20 January 1997.
^ "How the laws are affected". South China Morning Post. 21 January
1997. p. 6.
^ Lau 2002, p. 150.
^ "Municipal Councils Archives Collection".
Hong Kong Public
Libraries. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
Lau, Y.W. (2002). A History of the Municipal Councils of Hong Kong
1883–1999. Hong Kong: Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
Leisure and Cultural Services Department
Elections and referendums in Hong Kong
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