LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works and LegCo Panel on Housing Response to REDA's Comments on Development Processing Procedures

The following is the Administration's response to REDA's comments on development processing procedures :

Re para. 1 : Declared aims vs actual policy

2. REDA alleged that the Administration is not consistent in the policy proposals as against the policy statements and that the Town Planning White Bill would delay all development projects and increase bureaucracy for no material benefit. This is not true. The Association has overlooked the various positive proposals in the White Bill which would enhance the efficient operation of the planning system, including the statutory time limits proposed to require the Town Planning Board (TPB) and Planning Authority (PA) to complete certain planning procedures, group inquiries on unwithdrawn adverse representations, further delegation of powers from the TPB and other fast-track procedures. In short, the White Bill procedure would take 20 months, as against an average 45 months under the present system.

Re para 2 : Government's role in the development of private sector flats

3. REDA argued that Government may not have a role to play in the design of private buildings and the private sector may have better qualified expertise guided by the prevailing market demands in designing private buildings. It should be noted that generally Planning Department and TPB do not control the detailed design of each and every individual private building. Planning Department and TPB are however legitimately concerned with the form, function and inter-relationships of individual buildings which affect the overall quality of the urban environment. As a government, we have to look after the public interest including public amenities. Over the past few years, TPB has imposed planning conditions on the detailed design of individual buildings on a limited number of cases in view of the sensitive nature of the building proposals or the impact of the building proposals on the character of the surrounding areas. TPB has done this only when it is necessary and in accordance with the duties in the Town Planning Ordinance.

4. As far as the Town Planning White Bill is concerned, it has made explicit provisions for TPB to give more consideration on urban design matters through the designation of some areas which have architectural, historical or special urban design interest as "Special Design Area" ("SDA"). Planning permission from TPB would be required for any development in an area designated as "SDA". This would afford TPB better control on the urban design aspects in these special areas when required. There is no intention to extend such control to cover every individual building development. The land owners would be given an opportunity to make representations on the "SDA" designation during the plan-making process.

Re para 3 : Duplication of Power

5. The problem about inter-departmental disputes is noted. However, we do not think that this could be resolved simply by relying on lease control. Other than the well established centralised processing system for general building plans, the Planning Department has been undertaking a co-ordinating role amongst various government departments with respect to implementation of conditions of approval imposed by TPB. If disputes between developers and government departments cannot be satisfactorily resolved, they can be submitted to TPB for decisions. The Administration welcomes any suggestion which could help improve our current working procedures further.

Re para 4 : Double Standards and Incentives

6. Re para. 4(a)

There is no question of double standards as amendments to statutory plans affecting development intensities of private land and Government sites are processed in the like manner. Both are subject to the approval of TPB and similar objection procedures.

7. Re para. 4(c)

The proposal to amend the Partition Ordinance will be further considered in the review of the urban renewal policy.

Re para 5 : Detailed Comments

8. Re para. 5.1 :Planning Applications, MLP & DD&H Approvals

(i) Re para. 5.1(a)

The level of details to be required for planning applications would depend on the complexity of individual cases. It is not the intention of TPB to require excessive details on planning applications or to stipulate detailed requirements on matters related to building design. It is up to the applicant to provide sufficient details for his application to be processed by the TPB.

(ii) Re para. 5.1(b)

There are existing provisions in the Town Planning Ordinance (the Ordinance) for TPB to delegate its power to the Director of Planning to consider and decide on applications for minor amendments to planning permission previously granted by TPB. The Town Planning White Bill also contains provisions for the processing of applications for minor amendments to planning permission by the Planning Authority under the delegated authority of TPB in a fast-track manner without the need to publish the applications.

It is not possible to define precisely what constitutes a minor amendment to a planning permission. Each case will have to be considered on its individual merits. It is also necessary to be cautious in exercising this delegated authority. ICAC has previously advised that too liberal an interpretation of "minor amendments" may give the public officers too wide a discretion which is not envisaged in the enabling legislation.

(iii) Re para. 5.1(c)

Applications for zoning amendments is at present processed administratively. There is no provision in the existing Ordinance for such applications. Provision is made in the White Bill to institutionalise this well-established practice. The right for review of TPB's decision on the application is, however, not provided for in both the White Bill and the existing administrative practice. Application for zoning amendment is to provide some flexibility in the statutory planning system for major change of use but it should not be used as a second round of representation to the statutory plans.

(iv) Re para. 5.1(d)

We agree that an informal exchange of ideas between the applicants and the relevant government departments before formal submission of planning application will be useful.

(v) Re para. 5.1(e)

Under the current administrative practice, the Planning Department pledges to submit any application for zoning amendment to TPB for consideration within a period of three months. The White Bill has made specific provision for any person to submit applications for amendment to statutory plans. However, no time limit is set on when the application must be considered by TPB. Appeal against or review of TPB's decision on applications for amendment to statutory plan is not provided for in the White Bill.

(vi) Re para. 5.1(f)

The allegation that many planning conditions are not necessary is not justified. It is a well-established common law principle that planning conditions should only be imposed where they are necessary, relevant to the development to be permitted, and reasonable in all other respects. If an applicant is not satisfied with any conditions of approval imposed by TPB, both the existing Ordinance and the White Bill have made provisions for the applicant to appeal to the Appeal Board.

Regarding the issue on setting time limits for the concerned authorities to give response to submissions as required by planning conditions, we agree that this should be considered further and perhaps be pursued administratively through the "Performance Pledge" of concerned departments.

(vii) Re para. 5.1(g)

Since July 1994, Lands Department has set a 12-week time frame for processing MLP submissions, which is stipulated in the Department's Performance Pledges.

(viii) Re para. 5.1(h)

Building Committee III (BC III) is an internal conference to consider DD&H submissions. Its members are experienced professionals of various disciplines and their role is to ensure that the proposed development is compatible with the surrounding areas.

(ix) Re para. 5.1(I)

This is already the current practice of TPB.

9. Re para. 5.2 : Environmental Requirements

(i) Re para. 5.2(a)

We have made a similar proposal on residential development to the Legislative Council's Bills Committee to Study the Environmental Impact Assessment Bill.

(ii) Re para. 5.2(c)

We are not aware of any circular letters or guidelines that do not correspond to the Buildings Department's requirements. We would be pleased to receive specific feedback from the REDA on what circular letters or guidelines they are referring to, so that we can look into the matter.

10. Re para. 5.3 : Pre-sale Applications

(i) Re para. 5.3 (a)

There is no justification for limiting presales consent to residential developments only and certainly not to distinguish between "mass" residential projects and smaller ones.

(ii) Re para. 5.3 (b)

Pre-sale consent is being dealt with by LACO. DLO's role in this process is to advise LACO if DD&H approval has been given and to comment on the Deed of Mutual Covenant (DMC). LACO takes a very proactive role in speeding up the processing of consent applications by virtue of regular reviews of our requirements and procedures and the issue of circular memoranda to the Law Society and developers advising them of current policy and requirements for applications and streamlined procedures introduced from time to time.

(iii) Re para. 5.3 (c)

The role of LACO in giving presales consent and approving DMCs is to ensure fairness to purchasers of uncompleted property, compliance with the lease conditions of the grant and that Government's interests from a landlord's point of view have been taken into account. GPA is responsible to look after the interest of the client department who is the user of the Government accommodation. The interest of GPA as a purchaser and co-owner of premises in a development are quite different and should not be represented by the DLO or internally within LACO.

11. Re para. 5.4 : BOO-related Matters

Staff of Buildings Department have been given clear instructions and guidelines to follow in building plan processing, that apart from some fundamental issues, staff would only carry out curtailed check covering the 8 basic points, as listed out in the "Practice Note to Authorized Persons and Registered Structural Engineers 99", for the purposes of approval or rejection. Contravention of other regulations noted in plan processing will simply be mentioned in a separate paragraph of the approval/rejection letter and will not form grounds for initial rejection.

12. Re para. 5.5 : Lands-related Matters

In addition to the land authority, the developer is also responsible for the total time taken to process and approve a development proposal. For example, in 1995 the Lands Department had concluded 260 lease modification/land exchanges. Forty-six cases had taken a long processing time. Out of these, 19 cases were associated with the applicants' delay in providing information. This varied from 90 to 964 days (i.e. 15% to 77% of total processing time).

In 1996 (up to 31.10.96), statistics indicated that there were 208 cases completed. Out of 33 long processing cases, 12 were due to the applicants' delay to respond. This varied from 104 to 576 days, i.e. 12% to 57% of the total processing time.

(i) Re para. 5.5(a)

The Practice Note issued by Lands Department in October 1996 has introduced a new procedure that for complex cases where there is a request for premium review, the Registered Professional Surveyor (RPS) representing the applicant may be invited to present his case to Valuation conference which is an internal conference to consider appeals. It is hoped that this new procedure will shorten the appeal time and make our system more open.

(ii) Re para. 5.5(b)

Normally minor amendments to Building Plans which accord with BC III's decision could be approved by DLO without referral to BC III.

(iii) Re para. 5.5(c)

BC III requires conceptual design for MLP rather than detailed design. Sometimes the submissions contain too much details.

(iv) Re para. 5.5(d)

BC III always tries to approve plans than to reject plans. It either

(1) approves;

(2) accepts subject to conditions [which may be ratified by DLO] or

(3) rejects the plans [major issues to be referred back to BC III].

Building plan submissions too often concentrate in compliance with Buildings Ordinance and not lease conditions. Inputs from RPS in the building plan submissions may be useful to improving/expediting the plan processing procedure.

(v) Re para. 5.5(e)

If the applicant and his consultants could assist in providing sufficient information on the proposed development to enable Government departments to give comprehensive comments, the processing time of land matters may be further reduced.

(vi) Re para. 5.5(f)

DLOs have been performing a co-ordination role. However, other Government departments have their own procedures/practices to endorse development proposals.

12. Re the attached Chart

There is no indication on how the average periods in the Chart have been calculated, for example, the processing of planning application (6 to 24 months) and planning certificate (7 months). They must have included the time spent by the applicants. In addition, we would like to provide the following clarifications :-

(i) the additional one month for the processing of planning application is required for the application to be published for public comments ;

(ii) there is no time limit for the Appeal Board to consider appeals at present ; in the Town Planning White Bill, provision is made to require the Appeal Board to consider an appeal within a period of three months after it has been received ;

(iii) the 60-days limit for the Planning Authority to process an application for planning certificate can be counted concurrently with the processing time for seeking building plan approval should the applicant choose to apply for the planning certificate through the centralised one-window building plan processing system ; and

(iv) it is not clear why a two-month period is considered necessary for projects with planning permission which require a letter of no-objection from the Planning Authority before the issue of occupation permit. Section 21(7) of the Buildings Ordinance provides that the Building Authority shall refuse the issue of an occupation permit or a temporary occupation permit within a period of 14 days of the receipt of such application, otherwise the permit shall be deemed to have been issued. The White Bill does not propose any amendments to section 21(7) of the Buildings Ordinance. The 14-day limit will remain. The issue of the letter of no-objection or otherwise by the Planning Authority will have to comply with this 14-day period.

(v) It is noted that the first approval time for building plans includes the time taken for AP's to amend (or supplement) their plans or other contents of the applications. However, the authorized persons, with due diligence, could normally receive their first approval of their proposals in 3 months, i.e. taking into account of their plans being rejected once.

(vi) Consent applications are normally processed within the statutory 28 days ; and Occupation Permit applications can be processed within 14 days if building works are completed in accordance with the approved plans and all necessary documents are submitted.

(vii) The phrase of "add a minimum of 7 months for EIA" at the bottom of the chart is both incorrect and misleading because in reality the EIA is normally carried out in parallel with the planning and detailed design process. There is little evidence to support the assertion that the EIA study actually lengthens the total amount of time required. The 7 month EIA study time, even if it is required and is of such a length, could well be absorbed into the REDA's estimated average period for planning applications (1 to 15 months) and the building plan approval (5 months).

February 1997

Last Updated on 20 August 1998