A step forward in setting up of Urban Renewal Authority

The Government has moved a step further in its plan to set up the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) with the publication of the URA Bill in the Gazette tomorrow (Thursday).

In view of public comments received during the consultation period on the URA White Bill between October 22 and December 31 last year, a number of changes have been incorporated into the Bill.

About 300 written submissions were received during the consultation period. Representatives of the Planning and Lands Bureau and the Planning Department attended 32 briefing sessions, seminars and forums on the White Bill and organized two open forums to gather views from the public.

The preservation of buildings, sites and structures of historical, cultural or architectural interest has been added as one of the purposes of the URA.

To allow greater flexibility in the approval procedure for the URA's Corporate Plans and Business Plans, the Financial Secretary is now empowered to approve Corporate Plans and Business Plans submitted by the URA with or without amendments.

The procedure for processing objections to an URA development project has also been improved by providing an opportunity for owners affected by any amendments made by the Secretary for Planning and Lands to the project to raise objections to such amendments and for the objections to be considered.

The Town Planning Board, in considering a development scheme submitted by the URA, will be given greater flexibility as it is empowered to approve an URA development scheme with or without amendments.

The Bill has also set out how the commencement date of a project or parts of a project will be determined when an amendment results in an enlargement in the project area.

It is made clear that the URA may only dispose of land resumed under the Lands Resumption Ordinance for a URA project with the prior approval of the Chief Executive in Council.

The URA's powers to conduct freezing surveys have been enhanced and the procedures involved have been stipulated in greater detail.

A new clause on how the notices will be served has also been set out.

In the light of suggestions made by the public to enhance the compensation package payable to owners whose properties are to be resumed, the Government will review the Home Purchase Allowance (HPA) for owners of domestic premises and compensation for non-domestic premises.

During the consultation, the public supported the idea that the Housing Authority and the Housing Society should act as rehousing agents for the URA. We have already come to a preliminary agreement with the Housing Society on rehousing arrangements and we are close to reaching an agreement with the Housing Authority on this matter.

The public also raised concerns on arguments over compensation for resumed land that are often caused by differences in the method of valuation.

Subject to the Bill being passed into law, the Government will issue a set of guidelines for valuation so that the public are aware how the Government or its consultants assesses the value of properties when they are resumed for redevelopment projects.

The Government also intends to establish a non-statutory appeal mechanism to deal with appeals from owners aggrieved by the Director of Lands' decision on their eligibility for the HPA or by the Director's method of calculating HPA, e.g. method of calculating floor area.

An owner may, within 30 days of such a decision, apply to an Appeals Committee consisting of non-officials for a review of his/her eligibility for the HPA or the amount of HPA he/she is eligible.

If the Director does not accept the determination of the Appeals Committee, the Secretary for Planning and Lands will review the case and make a decision on it.

This Appeals Committee will be set up before any resumption of land for a redevelopment project of the URA is undertaken.

The URA Bill will be introduced into the Legislative Council on February 16, 2000. Upon the passage of the Bill into law by the Legislative Council, Government will set up a Provisional URA in June 2000 to make transitional arrangements for the establishment of the URA.

Ends/Wednesday, February 2, 2000