Streamlining the approval process of development proposals
At present, every private development project is subject to regulation by certain development control parameters imposed by the Planning Department (PlanD), the Lands Department (LandsD) and the Buildings Department (BD). Given the different objectives and loci of the control regimes and their evolution over time, the approval process of development projects has eventually become complicated. The Chief Executive announced in her Policy Address in 2017 that a steering group would be set up under the Development Bureau (DEVB) to explore how best to consolidate and rationalise the standards and definitions adopted by different departments in scrutinizing development projects such that the approval process can be streamlined. The first batch of streamlining arrangements came into force officially in mid-May this year. In order to let the industry gain a better understanding of the relevant technical details, an industry seminar was conducted earlier and the response was encouraging.
Striving to streamline the approval process
To draw up proposals to streamline or improve the existing development control regime, the Steering Group on Streamlining Development Control was set up under the DEVB. The Steering Group is chaired by the Permanent Secretary for Development (Planning and Lands), with members being representatives of three departments, i.e. the BD, LandsD and PlanD. We have set up, for the same purpose, a joint sub-committee under the Land and Development Advisory Committee with representatives from 10 related professional institutes and organisations (Note) to consider the Government’s proposals to ensure that new measures will effectively meet industry’s demand.
The first batch of streamlining proposals includes how best to consolidate the three development control parameters of building height restriction, and requirements on site coverage of greenery and landscaping. The new arrangements took effect on 15 May and relevant practice notes have been issued respectively by the PlanD, BD and LandsD.
Avoid double handling by various departments
Ms KUN Ka-yin, April, Chief Town Planner of the PlanD, shares with us at the seminar that in formulating the streamlining proposals, one of the main directions is to avoid having three departments executing the same development control requirements concurrently. For example, building height restriction is attributable mainly to achieving visually compatible urban form, enhancing visual quality and natural air ventilation as well as controlling building bulk in vertical dimension. Therefore, under the new streamlined arrangements, the PlanD will be responsible to determine the nature and scale of building height restrictions and enforce the relevant requirements as a development control parameter. In addition, if building height restrictions are specified in the relevant Outline Zoning Plans, such control will generally not be included in the new and modified leases except in special circumstances.
Enhanced transparency and clarity
Ms KUN notes that another key approach to streamline the approval arrangements is for the different departments to enhance transparency and clarity of the approval process, clarify different standards and definitions adopted, and simplify the approval procedures in the scrutiny of private development projects. For instance, the newly published Joint Practice Note No.3 clearly sets out the requirements and procedures adopted by the PlanD and the LandsD in processing landscape submissions. This will facilitate the industry to understand the approaches and requirements of individual department, and in turn making the whole approval procedures clearer, faster and simpler than in the past.
Continue to explore other streamlining proposals
The Steering Group is now actively exploring other proposals on streamlining the approval process. Mr. LAM Siu Kay, Junkers, Chief Building Surveyor of the BD, says that the proposals to be discussed include application of the LandsD's "Design and Disposition Clause"; and definition of "site coverage" and "non-building areas". It will also explore to further simplify lease compliance on standard requirements on "building setback" and "building separation" under the Sustainable Building Design Guidelines, as well as standardising the definition of gross floor area for the three departments. The public may by all means keep track of the latest developments.
To meet industry needs
Mr KWOK Pak-wai, a surveyor who attended the seminar, says that with his job being more related to alteration and addition works, he is more concerned about the issue of building height restriction. He believes that the first batch of measures, by establishing standard building height restriction and designating a single approving department, will make his work much easier in the future. Meanwhile, Senior Architect Mr HON Chung-hei says that in the past he could only come to know the requirements and standards of individual departments through practical experience coming into contact with them. With the new practice notes setting out detailed procedures and requirements of each department, clearer guidelines will be provided for the industry to follow. He looks forward to seeing more streamlining measures being rolled out gradually by the Government.
I am pleased to see the implementation of the first batch of streamlining measures. The Government’s role is not only a regulator, but also a service provider. We will endeavour to continue streamlining the approval process for development projects without prejudicing the relevant statutory procedures and technical requirements, so as to meet industry needs and maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness. We look forward to the continued support of the industry, and let us join forces to expedite Hong Kong’s development.
2 June, 2019