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LCQ17: Handling applications for amendment of approved layout plans
     Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Wai-keung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 2):

     In January last year, the owner of an industrial building in Chai Wan submitted an application to the Town Planning Board (TPB) under section 12A of the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131) (section 12A) for amending the approved Chai Wan Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) to rezone the site on which the industrial building is situated from "Industrial" to "Other Specified Uses" annotated "Columbarium".  Under that provision, TPB shall, within three months after the receipt of the application, hold a meeting to consider the application.  However, that owner requested in May last year for deferment of consideration of the application by TPB on the ground that it needed to prepare supplementary information and withdrew the application in July, but re-submitted the application in November.  Eventually, TPB considered and made a decision on the application in September this year.  Some residents in Chai Wan District have commented that a decision on the application was pending for almost two years, during which they were greatly distressed.  Regarding applications made under section 12A, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the number of applications made under section 12A which were received by TPB in the past five years; among them, the respective numbers and percentages of applications (i) the applicants of which requested for deferment of consideration of the applications by TPB, (ii) which were approved, (iii) the vetting and approval of which took more than three months to complete, and (iv) which were repeated submissions and the distribution of such applications by district;
(2) as some members of the public have pointed out that according to statutory procedures, TPB shall, upon receipt of an application for plan amendment, make available as soon as reasonably practicable the application for public inspection at a reasonable time, and within the first three weeks of that period, any person may make comment to TPB in respect of the application, but incessant submission of supplementary information by the applicant resulting in incessant changes to the scope and deadline for the public to make comments may affect their willingness to make comments, and the applicant's requests for deferment of consideration of his/her application by TPB will also lengthen the time for which the affected residents suffer from distress, whether the authorities will consider setting a limit on the maximum number of times an applicant may submit supplementary information and lodge requests for deferment of consideration of his/her application, in order to guard against abuse of the procedures;
(3) given that some members of the public have pointed out that under the existing procedures, TPB shall, upon receipt of an application for amendment of plan, publish a notice in newspapers and on its website, or post a notice in a prominent position on or near the application site, and send a notice to the Owners' Corporations or other committees of the buildings within 100 feet from the boundary of the application site, but members of the community and residents who are affected may not be aware of such notices, and the ways in which the notices are disseminated appear to be behind the times in an advanced information society nowadays, whether the authorities will review the relevant practices (including the target recipients of the notices and the scope and methods of dissemination) so as to make it more likely for the affected parties to become aware of the relevant applications to facilitate their tendering views;
(4) as some members of the public have pointed out that TPB is not currently required to actively initiate public consultation on applications for amendment of plans and it just waits passively for public comments, but some applications have significant impacts on the communities concerned, whether the authorities will review the ways in which TPB collects public views on such applications, including adding the practice of taking the initiative to consult the District Councils concerned, in order to better gauge views from local communities on such applications; and
(5) whether the authorities will (i) review section 12A and the relevant procedures to guard against abuse of the mechanism for deferring TPB's consideration of applications by the applicants, (ii) set a higher threshold for submission of repeated applications (e.g. requiring an applicant to consult the Planning Department, the Home Affairs Department and the District Councils concerned prior to the submission of the application), and (iii) in respect of cases in which the application was withdrawn by the applicant or refused by TPB, set a deadline for submission of repeated applications, in order to guard against abuse of the application mechanism by applicants, and thus a waste of administrative resources? 



     The Town Planning Board (TPB) is an independent statutory body established under the Town Planning Ordinance (the Ordinance) with the Planning Department (PlanD) serving as its Secretariat.  The planning application mentioned in the question involves a lot at 50 Ka Yip Street, Chai Wan.  Kerry Warehouse (Chai Wan) Limited (the Applicant) has submitted two applications for amendment of plan in respect of the lot to TPB under section 12A of the Ordinance, proposing to rezone the lot from "Industrial" to "Other Specified Uses" annotated "Columbarium", with a view to enabling a columbarium development accommodating columbarium niches through conversion of the existing godown building.  The Applicant submitted its first application to TPB in February 2015 and subsequently withdrew it in September 2015.  In December 2015, TPB received the second application from the Applicant in respect of the same location.  Subsequently, the Applicant submitted further information to TPB several times between April and September 2016 in support of its application.  TPB handled the application in accordance with the provisions of the Ordinance taking account of the nature of the information therein, and carried out another round of public consultation for three weeks between July 15 and August 2, 2016.  After considering various relevant planning factors, TPB decided not to agree to the above application for amendment of plan on September 30, 2016.
     After consulting PlanD, my reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) In the past five years (from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2016), TPB received 194 applications for amendment of plan under section 12A of the Ordinance.  Among them, the applicants of 124 applications (about 63.9 per cent) subsequently requested deferment of consideration of their cases after TPB's receipt of their applications; TPB approved deferment of 123 of them (about 63.4 per cent of the total number of applications for amendment of plan).  There were 66 applications (34 per cent of the total number of applications) requiring a processing time exceeding three months as a result of the grant of deferment and/or the submission of further information by the applicants.  Fifty-six cases (about 28.9 per cent) involved identical/similar rezoning applications in 25 locations in the following districts: Hong Kong Island (nine cases); Kowloon (six cases); Tsuen Wan and West Kowloon (five cases); Fanling, Sheung Shui and Yuen Long East (six cases); Tuen Mun and Yuen Long West (18 cases); Sai Kung and Islands (two cases); and Sha Tin, Tai Po and North District (10 cases).
(2) and (5) In considering requests by applicants for deferment of a decision on their applications for amendment of plan, TPB will follow the Ordinance and the principles set out in the TPB Guidelines No. 33 on "Deferment of Decision on Representations, Comments, Further Representations and Applications made under the Town Planning Ordinance".  Reasonable grounds must be provided by the applicants and the proposed deferment period should not be indefinite.  TPB will consider such deferment requests on the merits of individual cases, and approval will only be given to cases with adequate justifications. 
      As regards the supplementary information submitted by an applicant, the TPB Secretary will determine upon receipt whether such information can be accepted in accordance with the TPB Guidelines No. 32 on "Submission of Further Information in relation to Applications for Amendment of Plan, Planning Permission and Review made under the Town Planning Ordinance".  If the supplementary information is accepted, the TPB Secretary will consider in accordance with the said guidelines whether the supplementary information is exempted from publication; whether it is necessary to recount the time for consideration of the application; and whether the public consultation procedure should be restarted.

     At present, there is no restriction under the Ordinance on the number of times and the time limit for submission of an application.  The above mechanism has been running effectively and TPB currently has no plan to review the related procedures for handling application for amendment of plan under section 12A of the Ordinance.  As always, TPB will consider each application individually, taking into account the justifications provided by the applicant in relation to the application or the deferment request.  If the application site is related to a previous application, the related information will be included in the TPB papers concerned for members' consideration.  The public and relevant departments will be consulted on any application in accordance with the Ordinance and the established procedures.
(3) and (4) TPB will, upon receipt of an application for amendment of plan, make the application available for public inspection as soon as possible in accordance with the Ordinance, so that members of the public can submit their comments within three weeks.  To raise public awareness of the application, apart from publishing in designated newspapers or posting in a prominent location on or near the application site a notice about the application in compliance with the statutory requirements, and taking additional administrative measure of notifying the Owners' Corporation(s) or other committee(s) of the buildings within 100 feet from the application site, TPB will also upload the said notice onto TPB's website and post it at the TPB Secretariat, the Planning Enquiry Counters of PlanD, the relevant District Planning Office, District Office and, where appropriate, the Rural Committee office.  Furthermore, the notice will be sent to the registered District Council (DC) member(s) and relevant Area Committee(s) (ACs).  For applications of territorial or major local significance, TPB will also mount, where necessary, notice to a roadside railing in the locality of the application site, such that parties potentially to be affected will be more readily informed of the application so as to express their views to TPB.
     Since TPB is required to consider an application within a statutory time limit according to the Ordinance, it will be difficult for TPB to arrange consultation with the DC(s) on an individual application within the specified time.  That said, TPB will continue to gauge public views on the application within the statutory time limit through the various channels mentioned above, including sending notices to the registered DC member(s) and relevant ACs, so that the member(s) and locals can make their comments on the application.
Ends/Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:25
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