Urgent task to improve town planning system

The government plans to carry out the legislative exercise to amend the Town Planning Ordinance in stages and the first urgent task is to improve the efficiency in the town planning system, the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John C Tsang, said this evening (February 18).

Mr Tsang explained that after the dissolution of the Bills Committee on the Town Planning Bill in May 2000, a review on the Bills Committee's concerns and the public comments showed that views on certain issues remained so diverse that they do not appear to be capable of converging.

However, as there was clear support in the legislative process in 2000 for improving efficiency in the town planning system, we intend to put forward an Amendment Bill by early next year to address the efficiency issues that are considered to be of great importance to the community, he said.

Speaking at the spring reception of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, Mr Tsang said, "The main elements of the Amendment Bill will include streamlining the planning approval procedures, expediting the plan-making process, enhancing the openness and user-friendliness of the system and strengthening planning enforcement control."

"We wish to expedite the development approval process by exempting the need of planning permission from certain minor amendments to approved development schemes and by enabling further delegation of powers and functions of the Town Planning Board.

"We wish to promote greater public involvement and a more open planning process by allowing applications for amendments to statutory plans, and requiring that the landowner should be informed if a planning application affecting his land is submitted by another party.

"On the plan-making process, we wish to achieve a reasonable balance between public participation and efficiency by simplifying the statutory procedures for resolving objections to a draft plan, and by substantially shortening the processing time.

"We also wish to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness in enforcement control against unauthorized developments in the rural areas," he added.

Mr Tsang noted that there are still many issues that require deeper thoughts and major decisions by the Government.

"Some of these issues include making public applications for bad neighbour uses, provision for charging fees for planning applications, the organization and functions of the Town Planning Board and the designation of Special Design Areas.

"We need to involve the stakeholders again in finding common grounds and identifying innovative solutions. This will be a lengthy exercise."

Rather than brushing these issues aside, the Government needs more time to consider them comprehensively and to find common grounds among the stakeholders because they are highly controversial, he said.

"We intend to deal with them in the following years in separate amendment bills," he added.

End/Monday, February 18, 2002