Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)742
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)


Panel on Planning, Lands and Works
and Panel on Housing

Minutes of joint meeting held on Tuesday, 2 December 1997, at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Panel on Planning, Lands and Works

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP (Chairman)
Hon KAN Fook-yee (Deputy Chairman)
*Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
*Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
*Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Panel on Housing

Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Chairman)
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members absent :

Panel on Planning, Lands and Works

*Hon LEUNG Chun-ying, JP
*Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon LAU Wong-fat, JP
*Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
*Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting

Panel on Housing

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

( * also members of the Housing Panel)

Public officers attending :

Mr Patrick LAU
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Lands and Planning)

Deputy Director of Buildings

Mr Raymond CHAN
Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Environmental Assessment and Noise)

Mr Francis NG
Government Land Agent
Lands Department

Mr Raymond CHIU
Assistant Director of Planning (Technical Services)

Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing (Project Management)

Mr Esmond LEE
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Lands)

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Ms Pauline NG,
Assistant Secretary General 1

Ms LEUNG Siu-kum,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)2

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I.Election of Chairman

Mr Edward HO was elected Chairman for the joint meeting.

II.Discussion on the review of development approval process (PLC Paper No. CB(1)533(01))

2.The Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (DS/PEL) briefly explained the Administration's improvement measures in expediting the development approval process. He stated that the Administration had consulted the relevant professional bodies and the Real Estate Developers Association on these measures. They in general welcomed these measures which had since been implemented.

3.Notwithstanding, the Administration would continue to review the approval process and further suggestions for improvement were welcome. DS/PEL further advised that apart from expediting the development approval process, the Financial Secretary at a recent briefing for directorate officers of departments involved in land and housing development had emphasized the need to foster a business - friendly culture in their departments.

Savings in time

4.Responding to members' enquiries on the amount of time saved as a result of the implementation of the improvement measures, DS/PEL indicated that whilst the time saved for some works such as reclamation could be calculated, it would be difficult to assess the time saved for overall development because not each and every project had to go through all the development procedures. Moreover, some improvement measures like strengthening inter-departmental co-ordination and the role of different bodies including District Planning Conference and District Lands Conference, could not be quantified in terms of time saved. As the improvement measures had just been implemented in October 1997, the Administration would be in a better position to assess their effectiveness after a certain period of time.

5.Whilst acknowledging that there might be difficulties in calculating the time saved in respect of each of the improvement measures, members requested the Administration to keep record on the time spent on each of the development procedures involved and to set a performance pledge for the different approval processes. The Administration noted members' request.

Manpower implications

6.A member pointed out that some recently enacted pieces of legislation which aimed at enhancing building safety and environmental protection had significant manpower implications on the departments concerned. The present package of improvement measures to expedite development approval process further strained the manpower situation. The Chairman echoed this view and was concerned about the lengthening of the planning and approval processes, caused by shortage of staff in the departments concerned.

7.DS/PEL responded that before submitting a piece of new or amendment legislation to the Chief Executive-in-Council for consideration, the Administration would assess the manpower and resource implications. Any request for allocation of resources would be processed through the Annual Resource Allocation Exercise and, if necessary, be submitted for funding approval by the Finance Committee. Members remarked that where justified, the Administration should make a request for increase in manpower, particularly when implementation of new legislation or new initiatives was in question.

Co-ordination among departments

8.On inter-departmental co-ordination, DS/PEL advised that since the three departments dealing with development approval process, viz the Planning Department, the Lands Department and the Buildings Department, were under the auspices of the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau, co-ordination and resolution of conflicts would continue to be at the Bureau's level. The Committee on Planning and Land Development, chaired by Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands and comprising representatives from all departments involved in the planning and approval process, would provide a forum for exchanging ideas and possibly dealing with appeals in relation to projects in the private sector.

Promotion of a business - friendly culture

9.Whilst supporting the promotion of a business-friendly culture in departments, members were concerned about how this could be fostered and nurtured amongst different strata of the Government hierarchy. From their experience in dealing with government officials in the development approval process, some officials, particularly those at the middle and lower levels deliberately delayed and frustrated the process in order to buy time to scrutinize the submitted applications/plans.

10.In this connection, a member stressed the need for improving the working attitude of front line officers who might be out of touch with the actual situation of the building industry and the importance of adherence to specified schedules. She further pointed out that some officers hesitated to provide assistance to clients to avoid suspicion of accepting undue advantages. To change this unhelpful attitude of staff and to promote a business-friendly culture in departments, staff training was necessary.

11.DS/PEL responded that the Administration had all along been endeavouring to improve its services to the community and there were established channels for complaint. Heads of departments reckoned the need to promote a business-friendly culture. The Financial Secretary had written to departments concerned to explain that the role of the Government was not to frustrate development proposals. On the contrary, Government should be seen to be proactive toward these proposals and work in partnership with developers in taking these forward. Representatives of departments then explained in turn the measures adopted in promoting a business-friendly culture as follows -

  1. Lands Department

    The Government Land Agent informed that the subject of the importance of customer satisfaction had been included in the training programme for staff of the Lands Department. The department had been maintaining a close working relationship with the professional bodies and developers and had frequent mutual exchanges of ideas. He noted the member's concern about sensitivity of staff to corruption allegations.

  2. Buildings Department

    The Deputy Director of Buildings said that the Buildings Department had revamped its policies and procedures with the aim of helping business and setting guidelines for self-regulation of professions. In the updated practice notes issued to the building professions, the Buildings Department had set out the processing time for each type of applications with a view to shortening the entire building approval process. Staff were encouraged to make their own judgement on the approval of building plans in appropriate cases.

  3. Environmental Protection Department

    The Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (AD/EP) stated that the Environmental Protection Department had been keen to provide a better service to the community. A central unit headed by a directorate staff would be set up within the department to process all housing applications with a view to facilitating housing development. His Division had initiated the Business Process Re-engineering Programme which aimed at facilitating the working process and improving the department's working relationship with clients.

Cross-checking of building plans

12.A member doubted the need for excessively detailed cross-checking of building plans given that these were prepared by registered building professionals who were held personally responsible for complying with building regulations. The Deputy Director of Buildings explained that detailed guidelines regarding approval of building plans had been laid down in the new practice notes. The Building Authority would check the fundamental aspects of building plans and would refuse to approve building plans only if there was a contravention of statutory provisions in these fundamental aspects.

Members' views and suggestions

13.The Chairman suggested the formation of a central information unit to provide one-stop-shop advice on approval of building plans. This was considered necessary because departmental staff handling enquiries regarding the development approval process were reluctant to provide verbal advice to enquirers and often advised the latter to formally submit a building plan for consideration. As a result, time was wasted and the whole development process was delayed. With the formation of a central information unit, timely guidance to facilitate development could be provided to professionals in the field.

14.On a member's suggestion of instituting schemes for positive recognition of staff for quality service, DS/PEL advised that individual departments might have their own ways of commending staff for meritorious work. AD/EP added that verbal praise and letters of appreciation were effective ways of commendation and were well accepted by staff. Members supported the introduction of positive incentives to staff in recognition of their good services.

15.A member called for enhanced transparency in the development approval process and wider distribution of practice notes and guidelines to the building industry. He opined that Government should not unduly intervene in the development process. Development was market-driven and developers should be given a free hand in determining their market strategies.

16.Another member cautioned that the implementation of improvement measures to expedite the development approval process must not compromise public safety and the standards of buildings.

17.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:00 noon.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
6 January 1998