New development right concept to preserve historical buildings



Owners of historical buildings would be encouraged to preserve their properties under a proposed Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) scheme to save the historical structures still remaining in sound conditions in our community, the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John C Tsang said today (December 18).


Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, Mr Tsang said that we have to act fast because the historical buildings of architectural and heritage value are quickly disappearing in Hong Kong.


"There is an urgency but we must be pragmatic and rational instead of rushing into this subject emotionally and indiscriminately," Mr Tsang said.


"It would, indeed, be impractical to preserve every single structure just because they are old.


"We must weigh carefully the costs and benefits before we make a rational decision to choose which ones to preserve, and the community must know at what cost."


He noted that the Home Affairs Bureau is currently conducting a review on heritage preservation policy in Hong Kong. The Planning and Lands Bureau is giving preliminary thoughts to identifying viable means from the Bureau's policy perspective and the provision of incentive is one of the options.


"With TDR, the owners of historical buildings of value will be able to keep their existing buildings, and use or sell the unused development rights as they see fit," Mr Tsang explained.


"The community would also benefit from the preservation of these buildings without having to buy or resume the properties," he said.


The idea of a TDR Scheme is to enable property owners to "deed-restrict" their properties against future development, and to transfer the unused development rights to other sites of the same land use category in the same statutory Outline Zoning Plan area, he said.


In exceptional cases, the unused development rights could also be transferred to a contiguous Outline Zoning Plan.


"Under such a scheme, historical buildings may be declared as monuments, and become eligible 'sending sites'.


"The owners could apply to modify their land leases against future redevelopment and obtain an entitlement to the unused development rights in exchange for the deed restriction or lease modification."


The Secretary said, "The entitlement would be calculated by deducting the existing Gross Floor Area (GFA) of a historical building from the maximum GFA permitted under the land lease, the Outline Zoning Plan or the Buildings Ordinance, whichever is the least.


"The unused GFA permissible could then be transferred to other 'receiving sites'.


"A certificate of entitlement specifying the amount of transferable GFA, or GFA credits would be issued to the owner. These GFA credits could then be used in approved receiving sites or sold to other owners or developers."


By obtaining or buying such GFA credits, owners or developers could apply to a designated authority to use such rights to build at a higher density ratio than the development controls that would normally permit on the receiving site.


However, the size of the development should be commensurate with the size of the site in order to prevent excessive building bulk and should not overload infrastructural facilities, Mr Tsang stressed.


The total GFA on a receiving site should not therefore, exceed 20 per cent of the maximum GFA normally permitted, he added.


He pointed out that the Government is also thinking about using the proposed scheme to preserve older neighbourhoods including some parts of Kowloon City, Wan Chai and Yau Ma Tei which form an important part of our history.


The proposed scheme could also help to avoid redevelopment on neighbouring sites in order to protect the vistas of landmark historical buildings.


Emphasizing that the concept is only Government's preliminary thinking, he said that the Government hoped to seek public feedback on the idea to facilitate policy formulation in future.


Mr Tsang said that the existing legislation on density control would have to be amended, if the TDR scheme is to be implemented.


The Government would need new legislative powers to designate heritage areas instead of just individual historical buildings and to transfer GFA credits from a sending site to a receiving site that are not contiguous.


In addition, the Government would also need power to relax the maximum plot ratio and site coverage permissible under the Building (Planning) Regulations and the statutory town plans, he added.


End/Tuesday, December 18, 2001