REVIEW OF THE DEVELOPMENT APPROVAL PROCESS
Concern has been expressed by both real estate developers and the relevant professions that the development approval process is far too long and complex, and should be shortened and simplified. The Government is also very keen to cut out red tape and to streamline procedures. Against this background, we have consulted the relevant parties and reviewed the development approval process.
2. The parties consulted have expressed that it would be necessary to improve the efficiency of the development approval process and to achieve more certainty and transparency in the process. They specifically ask for better co-ordination among concerned departments and bureaux, for additional resources to enable them to deal with the increasing workload, for more interaction between users of the system and the Government, for more time limits to be imposed on various steps involved in the procedures, and for less Government intervention. The Government has taken their views and proposals on board in reviewing the development approval process. The results of the review are set out in the following package of improvement measures.
3. We agree that -
- inter-departmental co-ordination of Planning Department (Plan D), Lands Department (Lands D) and Buildings Department (BD) will be strengthened. Instructions will be issued to set out the tasks and responsibilities of concerned departments with regard to the development approval process. The present conferencing system should be maintained and if possible supported by the setting up of one-stop-units. The Committee on Planning and Land Development (CPLD) will serve as a forum for dealing with appeals in relation to projects in the private sector; and
- a business-friendly culture should be promoted among the Departments concerned. Guidelines will be issued to the Heads of Departments to explain that the role of the Government is not to frustrate development proposals. On the contrary, the Government should be seen to be proactive towards these proposals and work in partnership with developers in taking forward the proposals.
Planning Approval Process
4. The planning approval process will be improved as follows -
clear guidelines will be published to make the procedures more readily understood by the trade;
- a performance pledge will be made by Plan D that a reply will be made within six weeks of receipt of applications concerning the processing of Master Layout Plans (MLPs) under Section 4A(3) of the Town Planning Ordinance, checking of compliance with approval conditions, and the processing of minor discrepancies to approved proposals not involving questions of principles;
- District Planning Conference's role as a decision-making body will be strengthened. Its chairman will balance the views of concerned departments and make decisions at the meetings;
- approval letters issued by the Secretary of the Town Planning Board (TPB) will be accompanied by a list of names and telephone/fax numbers of the relevant officers in various departments for respective approval conditions. This would make it easier for the applicant to follow up the various approval conditions; and
- the validity period of planning permission will be lengthened from two to three years. This should reduce the time and paperwork spent by both the applicants and TPB on applications for an extension of the validity period.
5. The above recommendations are mainly in response to concerns about the time taken to comply with the conditions imposed by TPB when giving approval and the role of DPOs in the processing of planning applications. The existing procedures could be further streamlined upon the enactment of the new Town Planning Bill. The Bill will provide, among other things, that all adverse representations (objections) should be processed and submitted to the Chief Executive in Council by TPB within nine months after the end of the plan exhibition period. This would be much better than the present arrangements where no statutory time limit is set and the process can in some cases drag on for years. Moreover, the Bill will propose to make the present administrative arrangements for dealing with proposed amendments to statutory town plans a statutory process, thereby adding certainty to the process.
Land Approval Process
6. The land approval process will be improved as follows -
- future lease conditions will not require the submission of an MLP for approval where it has been already been submitted under the Town Planning Ordinance;
- Lands D's co-ordinating role in processing land transactions will be strengthened;
- District Lands Conference's (DLC's) role as a decision-making body will be strengthened. Its chairman will balance the views of concerned departments and make decisions at the meetings;
- the procedures associated with the approval of Deeds of Mutual Covenants (DMCs) and the issue of consent to sell units in uncompleted developments prior to compliance with lease conditions will be improved with a view to shortening the time required;
- work relating to approval of DMCs will be contracted out;
- the definitions used by Lands D in processing land transactions should as far as possible be compatible with those used by BD when considering building plans;
- future lease conditions will be worded to allow minor amendments thereto subject to the approval of the Director of Lands, thereby doing away with the need for a formal lease modification;
- District Lands Officers (DLOs) will be given more delegation to enable them to approve minor items under lease conditions;
- resources will be sought to apply modern information technology to speed up the land processing procedures; and
- the building covenants period imposed under new lease conditions will be adjusted to time in with the period the developers need to take to obtain approvals in the development process.
7. These recommendations are mainly in response to concerns about duplication in MLP submissions, the co-ordinating role of Lands D in the processing of land transactions, the performance of DLCs, the current procedures associated with the issue of consent to sell units in uncompleted developments prior to compliance with lease conditions, and the approval of DMCs.
Environmental Approval Process
8. A practice note will be issued to guide developers and Authorised Persons (APs) on how to tackle traffic noise. The note will spell out a new pragmatic approach to meet Environmental Protection Department's (EPD's) compliance requirements so that APs can design or modify their project layout accordingly at the outset. Specifically, a clear set of realistic and empirically achievable compliance standards will be set out for sites larger than two hectares. Under special circumstances, if the resultant layout of the development fails to comply with the standards but the AP feels that there are good justifications for favourable consideration of the case, the AP can approach the senior management of EPD for discussion. No submission to EPD is required for sites smaller than 2 hectares.
Building Approval Process
9. The building approval process will be improved as follows -
Building Plans under the Centralised Processing System
- the Building Authority will decide on the 45th day whether a building proposal is fundamentally acceptable and convey the decision to the interested parties such as APs; and
- where a proposal is considered fundamentally unacceptable and is to be disapproved, the batch of disapproval items is fixed and may not, in normal circumstances, be added to for subsequent re-submission of plans;
Approval and Consent for Amendment Plans
- approval and consent will be issued at the same time, thereby saving 28 days each time a submission of amendment plans is required;
Approval and Consent for Foundation Plans
- BD will process the approval application and the consent application concurrently and notify the applicant earlier whether a foundation proposal is fundamentally acceptable and if not, the grounds for disapproval. The processing time will be considerably reduced (from 87 days to 60 days);
Foundation works and Excavation Works for Substructures
- these works will be allowed to be carried out concurrently, thereby minimising or removing the idle time in waiting for foundation proof tests. Apart from saving several weeks' time, it will be possible for works to be carried out non-stop from foundation to pile cap construction and eventually to completion of superstructure works;
- the Centralised Processing System will be improved with the following measures -
to define the fundamental aspects of building development projects, with a view to reducing the number of fundamental aspects that need to be checked;
- to allow more opportunities for APs/Registered Structural Engineers to discuss with BD staff fundamental issues;
- to confirm the Building Authority's role in taking decisions under the Buildings Ordinance on comments and requirements of other Government departments; and
- to highlight the importance of self-regulation on the part of AP/RSE and registered contractors.
10. These recommendations are mainly in response to concerns about the Centralised Processing System and the approval and consent for amendment plans and foundation plans.
Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau
Last Updated on 5 December 1997