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LCQ1: Private property developments

     Following is a question by the Hon Albert Chan Wai-yip and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 11):


     It has been reported that recently some developers have planned to take up the "residual plot ratio" of private property developments to construct high-density buildings in the vicinity of some large housing estates, such as Mei Foo Sun Chuen and Riviera Gardens in Tsuen Wan, which seriously affects the living environment of the residents of the housing estates. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) regarding the applications by developers of construction plans to take up the residual plot ratio of private property developments in the past 10 years, of the respective locations, heights and floor areas of the buildings, and the time when such applications were submitted to and accepted or rejected by the authorities (set out in table form);

(b) whether the authorities will consider requiring developers to submit afresh applications in respect of construction plans approved years ago to take up the residual plot ratio of private property developments but the construction had not commenced (e.g. within 10 years), so as to facilitate the authorities in reviewing afresh whether such applications meet the existing planning standards; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether the authorities will consider the options of land exchange with the developers (e.g. using vacant Government premises or sites on the Application List) and allowing developers to convert the land use of their agricultural land reserve, in exchange for the land on which those highly controversial property developments are located, so as to settle the disputes among the developers and the residents; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Land development has often been a sensitive issue in Hong Kong involving substantive interests. Such issue has to be handled very carefully.  In recent years, in response to concerns of the public over development density and aspirations for a quality living environment, the Administration has formulated new policy measures as well as re-examined some Government development projects. However, when carrying out such work or when handling public requests regarding individual projects, the Government must respect private property rights and uphold the rule of law as well as fairly process all development projects in strict accordance with the legislation and established policies. For a private development project which complies with the land lease and statutory requirements, the Government, without sufficient justifications, should not make any recommendations to stop the project.

     Some members of the public have recently raised concerns over the land use and development rights of individual lots. The major cause is believed to have originated from the queries raised by the residents of Phase 8 of Mei Foo Sun Chuen over a development project at a site of a former liquefied petroleum gas storage near their housing estate. On this subject, representatives of the Development Bureau and departments have held a number of case conferences with Members of the Legislative Council (LegCo), attended meetings of a working group established under the Sham Shui Po District Council on this issue several times, and met with the representatives of residents of Phase 8 of Mei Foo Sun Chuen to respond to the residents' queries. To enhance the understanding of the relevant parties on the issue, we have consolidated the relevant information and have issued a document last week to explain in detail the development background of the concerned lots as well as the Administrationˇ¦s policy considerations and justifications. Members who have participated in the LegCo case conferences should have received this information document.

     I am mindful that while the question raised by Hon Albert Chan Wai-yip might have originated from the case of Phase 8 of Mei Foo Sun Chuen, the content it touches on is generalised. This is conducive to my replying and following up the supplementary questions, as the developer and residents involved in this case are separately taking or planning to take legal actions and the Government should not make too many comments.

     My reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) Any land development project undertaken in Hong Kong is controlled by the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap 131) and Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123), and must comply with the lease requirements of the lot to be developed. In approving a proposed development project, the relevant authority will mainly consider the project from planning, building as well as land lease aspects. Comments from other departments will also be suitably adopted. If a development project fully satisfies the relevant requirements of the land lease, Outline Zoning Plan as well as Buildings Ordinance and its subsidiary legislation, the relevant authority will have to grant its approval in accordance with the established procedures. "Residual plot ratio" is not a concept enshrined in the abovementioned statutory requirements and lease conditions. A developer will also not submit an application with "residual plot ratio" as the basis. As such, I cannot provide the information requested by Hon Chan.

(b) Under the Buildings Ordinance, after the approval of building plans, the relevant party has to obtain a written consent from the Building Authority before construction works (including foundation or superstructure works) can be commenced. If the building plans were approved many years ago but the consent to the commencement of any works has not yet been applied for in the past ten years as described in the question, then, generally speaking, when the relevant party applies for the commencement of works, the Buildings Department (BD) will scrutinise the relevant plans again in accordance with the Buildings Ordinance. If the building works shown on the plans do not comply with the prevailing requirements of the Buildings Ordinance and its subsidiary legislation, the BD may refuse to grant its consent to the commencement of building works. Nevertheless, objecting the commencement of works does not mean that the Administration can deprive the land owner of the title of land or the right to develop the lot through re-submitting building plans.

     In addition, the BD has recently adopted more lucid measures in relation to the validity of approved plans. The Department issued a document to the industry on October 21, 2010, stating that plans with "modifications or exemptions" (such as those enjoying gross floor area concessions for green and amenity features) granted in accordance with section 42 of the Buildings Ordinance on or after that date, will have a time limit of generally two years. Developers will be requested to commence the superstructure works within this time limit. If such works have not been commenced upon the expiry of the time limit, the BD may refuse to grant its consent when the developer applies to commence superstructure works thereafter. This measure will ensure that development projects with "modifications or exemptions" granted by the BD will comply with the requirements under the latest building policies.

     In addition, under the existing mechanism, if major amendments are to be made to building plans approved by the BD, the Department will require the proposed amendment plans to be in compliance with the prevailing planning, building and other relevant standards.

     As can be seen from the above, the arrangements suggested by Hon Chan have largely been in place under the existing regime.

(c) "Non-in-situ land exchange" between the Government and a land owner is a very solemn and sensitive arrangement. It generally requires the approval of the Executive Council on a case-by-case basis. The Executive Council will only consider adopting the method of "non-in-situ land exchange" under very special circumstances, such as when there are sufficient policy justifications and when the case concerns overall public interest. An example is the protection and preservation of a historic building under Hong Kong's heritage conservation policy. If the development project of a developer complies with the planning and building legislation and the development's land use is permissible under the land lease, then the Government should not, because of objections of local residents in the neighbourhood of the lot of the project, interfere with private property rights, such as proposing a "non-in-situ land exchange" to stop the development.

     As for allowing developers to convert the land use of their agricultural land reserve, it involves the statutory town planning process, in which the Town Planning Board will independently consider each application for change of land use. As such, there are no circumstances under which the Administration can achieve certain objectives with a private developer through changing the land use of a piece of land. I have to point out that under the existing town planning regime, in the conversion of a piece of agricultural land into one feasible for development purposes, the Town Planning Board will have to consider various objective factors, such as the location of the land, its neighbouring environment, the infrastructure, etc.; collect opinions through the established public consultation process; and be premised on public interest. This planning tool is not suitable for handling disputes between developers and residents over the development of a certain lot.

Ends/Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:35


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