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LCQ19: Handling of vacant school premises
     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (February 8):
     As pointed out in Report No. 65 of the Director of Audit, as at April 30, 2015, there were 234 vacant school premises (VSP) in Hong Kong and, among them, 105 (45 per cent) were not being used, 102 (44 per cent) were being used and 27 (11 per cent) had been demolished or pending demolition for housing or other development uses. In addition, the physical possession of 71 VSPs had not been delivered to the Government. At the Council meeting of May 25 last year, the then Chief Secretary for Administration indicated in the Government Minute in response to the said Report that the Education Bureau (EDB) had improved and updated the VSP database to clarify what constituted a VSP that needed to be handled, in order that the EDB may take appropriate follow-up actions on VSP in a more focused manner. Regarding the handling of VSP, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the current number of VSP and, among them, the respective numbers of those (i) the way of handling for which has yet to be decided and (ii) the physical possession of which has yet to be delivered to the Government;
(2) of the following information regarding each existing VSP: (i) the name and type of the school which had used the premises before the latter became vacant, and the year of closure of the school, (ii) the detailed address and the District Council district to which it belonged, (iii) the land area, (iv) the government department currently responsible for managing the property, (v) the name of the organisation currently using the school premises, and (vi) whether the authorities received applications from any organisations for using the school premises in the past three years and the outcome of the vetting and approval of such applications (set out such information in a table);
(3) of the authorities' long-term plans for the VSP the way of handling for which has yet to be decided; whether the authorities will conduct public consultation before deciding to change the uses of those VSP; if they will, of the details;
(4) of the mechanism put in place and criteria adopted by the authorities for vetting and approving the applications for using VSP, and the conditions which must be met by the applicants; how the authorities ensure that the vetting and approval process complies with the principles of openness, fairness and impartiality; and
(5) whether the authorities will publish online an updated list of VSP available for application for use, with a view to enhancing the transparency of the vetting and approval process, and facilitating organisations in making applications; if they will not, of the reasons for that?

     It has all along been the Government's policy objective to put vacant school premises (VSP) into gainful use. When there is a vacant or to-be-vacated school premises, the Education Bureau (EDB) will consider the size, location and physical conditions of the VSP with a view to assessing the VSP's suitability for educational use or whether the premises is needed to be re-allocated for school or other educational use. Once the EDB confirms that the VSP are no longer required by the EDB for school or other educational uses, the EDB would inform the Planning Department (PlanD) and other relevant departments (such as the Lands Department (LandsD) and the Housing Department (HD) for PlanD's consideration of suitable alternative long-term uses in accordance with the central clearing house mechanism.
     With regard to the questions raised by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen, the consolidated reply in consultation with the Development Bureau, PlanD, LandsD and HD is as follows:
     As per the recommendations of the Audit Commission and the Public Accounts Committee, the EDB has improved and updated its VSP database from the VSP handling perspective, with a view to adopting appropriate follow-up actions for VSP in a more focused manner. As at end-January 2017, there are 18 VSP and two partial VSP under the EDB's purview which are earmarked/retained for school or other educational uses. Information on these premises is appended at the Annex. Among the aforementioned VSP, 14 are located on government land (Note 1) while the physical possession of the other six has yet to be delivered to the Government. Of these six VSP, the concerned school sponsoring body (SSB) of two of them is initiating the site surrender process in accordance with the service agreement for reprovisioning of the schools concerned; the proposed uses of two of these VSP have the EDB's in-principle support and the SSBs are actively taking follow up actions; and the EDB is following up with the relevant government departments on requiring the SSB to surrender the remaining two VSP.
     The EDB needs to earmark/retain certain VSP to cater for the anticipated future demand for school places and to allow flexible arrangements required for in view of the uncertainty involved. In addition, the EDB needs VSP to flexibly address various and changing needs, including re-provisioning of existing schools to improve their learning and teaching environment or decanting use by schools undergoing in-situ redevelopment or extension works, etc. To put land resources to gainful use, the EDB will circulate, on a half-yearly basis, a list of VSP earmarked for educational use but suitable for short-term use to relevant bureaux/departments (including the Home Affairs Bureau, the Home Affairs Department, LandsD, PlanD and the Social Welfare Department), with a view to identifying short-term use pending the deployment of such premises for the earmarked use. As the VSP concerned have been earmarked/retained for educational uses, the EDB will not entertain application for use by organisations direct.
     According to the EDB's prevailing school allocation mechanism, once a vacant/to-be-vacated premises or a reserved school site is confirmed to be required for allocation for school use, the EDB will normally invite application from all eligible organisations in the territory through School Allocation Exercise (SAE) and make relevant announcement on its website. SAE is generally conducted on a competitive basis amongst the SSB. When assessing the applications, quality of education is the prime consideration of the School Allocation Committee (SAC) comprising official and non-official members. Other factors, including operation track record and condition of existing school premises (if any), the school proposal, etc, will also be considered. SAC will give due consideration to each case before making the recommendation for school allocation.
     Under the prevailing mechanism, the EDB is allowed to retain VSP for school uses. For VSP which are proposed to be used for other educational uses, however, the EDB needs to put forward its proposed use with justification to PlanD for assessment and may need to compete with other government departments on use of such VSP. With regard to allocation of VSP for self-financing post-secondary educational use, after PlanD has assessed the VSP and considered it suitable for the concerned use, the EDB will openly invite applications from eligible institutions through the Land Grant Scheme (LGS) when appropriate. All applications are assessed by an independent vetting committee against a set of application assessment criteria, which include the applicants' experience in providing post-secondary education, the nature and quality of programmes to be offered, the projected student enrolment, facilities to be provided, the implementation plan, the financial arrangements, etc. VSP are leased to eligible non-profit-making institutions under LGS at nominal rent for the provision of self-financing locally-accredited post-secondary programmes.
     Under the central clearing house mechanism, PlanD will consider suitable long-term alternative uses (e.g. government, institution or community, residential and other uses) for the concerned vacant school sites. Factors of consideration include the planning intention of the sites' land use zonings on the relevant Outline Zoning Plans, the land uses and environment in the vicinity of the sites, and comments of the relevant government departments (e.g. the Transport Department, the Environmental Protection Department and District Offices), etc. In accordance with the prevailing procedures, PlanD will also seek advice from the relevant bureaux/government departments regarding proposals on the long-term use of the sites. Upon confirmation on the long-term uses of the concerned vacant school sites, PlanD will inform the departments concerned (e.g. LandsD and HD, etc) of the recommendations for their follow up as appropriate.
     As at end-January 2017, PlanD has reviewed the long-term uses of 173 VSP (Note 2) not required for re-allocation for school use under the central clearing house mechanism, and confirmed the long-term uses of such school sites through the Government's internal mechanism. Among them, 28 were recommended for residential use, including public, private and village type development; 129 were recommended to be retained for government, institution or community use so as to meet the demands from government departments and the community; six were recommended for rural use (e.g. nature reserve or agricultural uses, etc); and the remaining ten are located within study areas where planning and engineering studies or land use reviews are being conducted at present. As regards the physical possession of the premises in question, according to LandsD's records, as at end-November 2016, 37 of them are located on private land. LandsD is taking action to recover the concerned land of three premises according to the relevant land lease conditions; for six of them, LandsD has executed lease modification for other uses which comply with the planning intention or is considering the proposal for other uses submitted by the relevant grantee in accordance with the prevailing policy. As for the remaining 28 premises, LandsD does not have the authority to recover the relevant private land according to the relevant land lease simply because of cessation of school operation. 136 premises are located on government land (Note 3), among which HD and Government Property Agency has the physical possession of 14 of them. The EDB has re-allocated two premises for operation of aided schools and three have been deployed for other educational use. One premise is being used as the EDB office and one is reserved for school use again by the EDB. LandsD has followed up with the remaining 115 premises whose uses have been reviewed. Among them, 72 have been approved for long-term/short-term uses or will soon been deployed for long-term uses or have planned uses/whose applications are being considered by LandsD; 35 have been/will be included in the list of vacant government sites for application for short-term uses; five are not available for application for the time being due to potential slope-related risks; and LandsD is continuing to take appropriate action to recover the possession of three of them.
     Same as other government sites, if any organisation wishes to use VSP handled under the central clearing house mechanism for long-term use, PlanD will consider whether the proposed use complies with the recommended long-term land use, the planning intention of the land use zoning on the relevant Outline Zoning Plan and the land uses and environment in the vicinity of that site, etc. If the proposed long-term use complies with the above planning considerations, the relevant organisation may, after obtaining the support of the relevant policy bureau(x), submit an application to the department responsible (such as LandsD) for managing the concerned vacant school site for using the VSP under the established mechanism.
     For effective utilisation of land resources, where feasible, relevant departments will also identify and arrange temporary or short-term uses for VSP as appropriate. Regarding VSP located on government land which LandsD has taken possession of, upon receipt of application from non-governmental organisations (NGO) for using the VSP concerned for community, institutional or non-profit-making purposes on a short-term basis, LandsD will lease the VSP to the NGO through short-term tenancies after seeking support from the relevant policy bureaux and consulting relevant departments. Organisations may download the relevant application procedures on LandsD's website. As for VSP located in housing estates under the auspices of the Hong Kong Housing Authority, HD will, in accordance with the established procedures, enter into tenancy agreements with the applicant organisations and lease the VSP to them for use following the support or nomination given by the relevant policy bureaux.
     PlanD is planning to circulate the list of VSP whose long-term uses have been confirmed under the central clearing house mechanism to the relevant District Offices and District Social Welfare Offices, deposit the list at PlanD's Planning Enquiry Counters, as well as uploading it onto PlanD’s website for public inspection. In recent years, each District Lands Office (DLO) also circulates, on a quarterly basis, a list of vacant government sites (including the abovementioned VSP which LandsD has taken possession of) which are available for application by NGOs for short-term use to the relevant District Councils, District Offices and District Social Welfare Offices. The list is also placed at DLO for public inspection. To further facilitate public inspection of information on vacant government sites which LandsD has taken possession of and are available for application by NGOs for short-term use, LandsD is currently planning the arrangement of online inspection which is anticipated to be implemented soon.
Note 1: Including land allocated to the Hong Kong Housing Authority.
Note 2: Some of the VSP have been demolished, arranged with temporary uses or deployed for other long-term uses.
Note 3: Including land allocated to the Hong Kong Housing Authority.
Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Issued at HKT 17:01
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