LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1269/96-97
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/PLW/1
LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works
Minutes of meeting held on
Tuesday, 18 February 1997, at 8:30 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members present :
Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP (Chairman)
Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, OBE, FEng, JP
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Member attending :
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP (Non-Panel Member)
Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Non-Panel Member)
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee (Non-Panel Member)
Members absent :
Hon LAU Wong-fat, OBE, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
Hon TSANG Kin-shing
Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
Public officers attending :
- Planning, Environment and Lands Branch
- Mr Canice MAK, JP
- Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Acting)
- Housing Branch
- Mr Martin CHEUNG
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing
- Miss L K LAM
- Chief Assistant Secretary for Housing
- Planning Department
- Mrs Ava NG
- Government Town Planner
- Lands Department
- Mr Ian MacNaughton
- Government Land Agents
- Mr T E Berry
- Principal Solicitor, Legal Advisory and Conveyancing Office
- Buildings Department
- Mr Edward LOK
- Assistant Director
- Environment Protection Department
- Mrs Shirley S L LEE
- Principal Environmental Protection Officer
Clerk in attendance :
- Miss Odelia LEUNG
- Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1
Staff in attendance :
- Miss Becky YU
- Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3
The Chairman advised that as there was an insufficient quorum for a joint meeting with the Housing Panel, the meeting would be held as the Planning, Lands and Works Panel meeting.
I Lead time for construction of flats
Lead time for production of land and housing
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 868/96-97(01))
2. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Acting) (S for PEL (Atg)) briefly introduced the information paper. He clarified that the charts at Appendices I and II showing the planning and development process for reclamation-based and land-based strategic growth areas (SGAs) respectively were just illustrations of the time and the procedures required under normal circumstances for completing the whole process of flat production. These might be different from the actual situation as there would be some degree of overlapping and the duration of various procedures could vary depending on the complexity of SGAs concerned. S for PEL (Atg) supplemented that the Administration recognized the need to expedite the production of land and housing to meet demands, and to this end had commissioned a review to streamline and shorten the planning and development process. Furthermore, the Housing Project Action Team established under the Housing Branch would ensure that major proposals for new private housing projects exceeding 500 units would be processed quickly and efficiently. S for PEL (Atg) also clarified that the prevailing development processing procedures had not caused delay in the delivery of flats as shown in the steady supply of some 30,000 units per annum over the period of 1985/86 to 1995/96. Of these, 20,000 were private flats constructed on developers own land.
3. Some members were not optimistic that the Administration could achieve its production target as pledged in the Long Term Housing Strategy Review given the lead time of 11 to 14 years for production of land and housing. They were particularly concerned about the time required for documentation under steps (a) to (f) in the Appendices, and enquired about the means by which the duration of these procedures could be reduced. S for PEL (Atg) stressed that the steps in question were essential in enhancing public involvement at the initial stage of plan-making. The Administration recognized the need to avoid possible delay and had proposed new measures in the Town Planning White Bill to ensure an efficient planning system such as the setting up of different committees under the Town Planning Board (TPB) to hear objections. S for PEL (Atg) reiterated that the Appendices were just illustrations of the entire process of flat production which would vary depending on the nature and the complexity of projects. Not each and every project had to go through all the steps and some steps could be undertaken in parallel. For example, steps (a) and (b) could be conducted in parallel as was the case in the Tin Shui Wai and the Au Tau SGAs, whereas steps (f) and (g) would be the starting points for the remaining phases at Tung Chung new town and Phase 3 of Tseung Kwan O new town respectively.
4. Some members remarked that while both the public and the private sectors commissioned outside consultants to conduct feasibility studies for projects which necessitated reclamation, the former usually required longer time to complete than the latter. They attributed the difference in duration to the lack of co-ordination between the Administration and the consultants concerned. The issue would be further complicated should there be a difference in opinion amongst government departments. One member asked if the Administration would consider undertaking feasibility studies without engaging consultants in order to cut down the time required for conflict resolution as was the case in overseas countries; another sought clarification on the efforts being made within the Administration to facilitate the work of consultants. Members generally considered it necessary to establish a central co-ordinating mechanism within the Administration to harmonize different concerns of departments to ensure timely completion of development projects.
5. S for PEL (Atg) considered a direct comparison between the public and the private sectors inappropriate as the pace of development in the latter was market driven. He emphasized that the current system of contracting out feasibility studies to outside consultants had been tested to be effective. Consultants so appointed would be thoroughly briefed before the commencement of studies and regular discussions would be held amongst government departments concerned and the consultants to ensure that the studies would be completed within the agreed time limits. It would not be cost-effective for the Administration to employ permanent professional staff to undertake feasibility studies as suggested by a member since not all development projects would require such a procedure and the expertise required for each feasibility study differed. As regards the co-ordination within the Administration, S for PEL (Atg) advised that the Planning Department (PD) was responsible for planning issues whereas the Lands Department (LD) and the Buildings Department (BD) were accountable for lease modifications and construction works respectively. He agreed with members that it might be difficult to resolve a difference in opinion amongst departments given that their jurisdiction and concerns were not the same. To improve the situation, some members called for a fundamental change to the current approving structure by designating an official such as the defunct Director of Public Works who was in a position to resolve any deadlocks amongst departments.
6. Judging from past experience, members were not convinced that it would take only four months to complete the environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures under step (c) in the Appendices. For example, the Sha Chau projects had to be re-submitted to the Advisory Council on the Environment three times before approval was granted. They were worried that the situation would be aggravated after the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance came into force because of the requirement for public consultation on designated projects. A member considered it useful to collate views from related professional bodies on these EIA procedures. The Principal Environmental Protection Officer (PEPO) clarified that the EIA process would mainly deal with the reclamation and landuse planning aspects of each SGA, depending on whether it would be reclamation-based or land-based. The four-month period included in step (c) only represented the normal consultation period. The whole EIA process from initiation to completion would normally proceed in parallel with the engineering feasibility study (i.e. step (b) of 24 months), which in the Administrations view, would not cause extra time or delay in the production of land after implementation of the EIA Ordinance as suggested by members. S for PEL (Atg) supplemented that the EIA Ordinance was only intended to formalize the existing administrative arrangements for environmental impact assessment in respect of both public and private sector projects. A member considered the overlapping period of six months under steps (g) and (h) unrealistic as construction works could not commence until reclamation works had been completed. At members request, the Administration undertook to provide a further paper to explain the means by which the procedures and the time involved between the identification of sites and the completion of flats for private housing could be improved and to revise the two Appendices to reflect the real situation.
7. Members also agreed that related associations such as the Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong (REDA), the Hong Kong Institute of Real Estate Administration, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, and the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors should be consulted on the ways to reduce the lead time for production of land and housing.
(Post-meeting note: Letters to the associations concerned were issued on 19 February 1997.)
Response to Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kongs comments on development processing procedures
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 868/96-97(02))
Study of existing problems and suggestions to review approval process and control mechanism in real estate development in Hong Kong
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 868/96-97(03))
8. Despite the existence of a centralized processing system, some members were of the view that obtaining approval or consent for development projects had become a lengthy and onerous process having regard to the increase in procedures and the number of departments involved in the planning and development mechanism. They considered it necessary for the Administration to streamline the process so that more land could be converted into housing units to meet demands. The Government Town Planner (GTP) advised that apart from the centralized processing system, PD had been undertaking a co-ordinating role amongst various government departments with respect to implementation of conditions of approval imposed by TPB. Where disputes between developers and government departments could not be satisfactorily resolved, these could be submitted to TPB for adjudication.
9. While acknowledging the statutory power of TPB in approving planning applications, members opined that on some occasions, departments tended to impose conditions or views on areas beyond the statutory requirements, for example on building design. S for PEL (Atg) advised that relevant departments including PD had been given clear instructions and guidelines to follow in processing applications. Apart from some fundamental issues, departments concerned would only carry out a check for compliance covering seven to eight basic points as listed out in the relevant Practice Notes for the purpose of approval or rejection. GTP emphasized the need to look after the public interests including public amenities. While both PD and TPB had no intention of intervening with the detailed design of individual private buildings, they were legitimately concerned with the form, usage and compatibility of individual buildings which affected the overall quality of the environment. According to a recent survey conducted by PD, TPB had only imposed planning conditions on the design of individual buildings on 58 occasions over the period of 1990 to 1996 having regard to the sensitive nature of the building proposals or the impact of such proposals on the features of the surrounding areas as was the case in the Ma Wan Estate in Stanley. Of these, 60% were government and utility buildings on the fringe of environmentally sensitive areas. GTP added that between 1994 and 1996, the average time taken by TPB to determine planning applications was two and a half months, as compared with the statutory time limit of two months to consider the case. The discrepancy was normally attributable to the need to obtain additional information from the developers concerned.
10. Referring to paragraphs 5.2(b) and (j) of REDAs comments, a member sought clarification on the absence of statutory time limits for certain procedures including those for EIAs. S for PEL (Atg) advised that apart from review and appeal against TPBs decision on applications for planning permission, a statutory time frame had been set for most of the procedures under the Town Planning Ordinance or in the form of performance pledges. He considered it impractical to set a time limit for appeals to be heard by the Town Planning Appeal Board which functioned like a judicial body. The member was not convinced of the Administrations response and opined that it would be fair to developers to know the certainty of time within which appeals would be handled. As regards the EIA process, PEPO advised that under the enacted EIA Ordinance, completion of an EIA would only be required for large residential developments located within environmentally sensitive areas such as Mai Po; most residential developments would not be affected. The EPD would continue to assist PD and LD to vet residential applications, the average processing time would normally take one to two months depending on the availability of resources. She assured members that the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) would adhere to the statutory time limits for EIA procedures under the EIA Ordinance.
11. Some members were of the view that the requirement for approval by EPD in new lease sometimes caused delay, and that EPD had paid little regard to the interests of building users, in particular on such issues as the view and the layout of buildings. They considered that major environmental issues should be clearly identified and stipulated in the lease to avoid possible grey areas. A member opined that consumer interests might be compromised in the event of delay in flat production. PEPO acknowledged members concern and advised that EPD, in the recent two years, had adopted a more flexible approach in considering planning applications or new leases/lease modifications. Scenic view would be taken into consideration in approving building layouts of these applications. She supplemented that on need basis, the PEL Branch played the role of co-ordinator to resolve issues amongst different departments within the Administration in matters pertaining to land supply for housing. A recent involvement was on a road deck proposal over Road D4 in Tseung Kwan O to mitigate against traffic noise to adjacent lands for both private and public housing developments. Given that it was a change in EPDs policy, the Chairman considered it necessary for the Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) to give a statement to confirm that EPD, in considering planning applications or lease conditions in recent years, had and would continue to take into account such factors as the view and the layout of buildings from the perspective of building users. PEPO undertook to relay members request to DEP.
The way forward
12. Members agreed to deliberate on the subject again in about two months time. To facilitate future discussions, the Administration was requested to provide its response to concerns raised at the meeting as soon as possible.
II Any other business
13. There being no other business, the meeting closed at 10:45 am.
Legislative Council Secretariat
11 April 1997
Last Updated on 21 August 1998