Government sets up independent committee of inquiry to examine the exercise of discretionary power by Building Authority

The Government accepted all of the recommendations made by the Director of Audit's report tabled in the Legislative Council today (November 16) concerning the development of a site at Sai Wan Ho.

A spokesman for the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau said the Audit's Report has highlighted various issues concerning the exercise of discretionary powers by the Building Authority (BA) in processing the building plan application in the following aspects, namely site classification, exempting gross floor area (GFA) for a Public Transport Terminus (PTT) and granting bonus GFA in return for dedication of reserved area for public passage. The relevant Ordinance provides for the BA to exercise his discretionary powers in the above aspects having regard to relevant considerations, including interest of the community.

"Although the Audit's Report has already pointed out that it may not be sufficiently clear as to how the BA exercised his discretionary powers, the Government considers that there may be further room for improvement.

"In order to further look into the relevant aspects to identify areas for improvement and to alleviate any public anxiety in this regard, the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands has recommended, with the approval of the Chief Executive, that an independent committee of inquiry should be set up to examine how and under what circumstances the BA exercised his discretionary powers in this particular development, and whether such powers were exercised properly," the spokesman said.

The committee will comprise The Honourable Mr Justice John Barry Mortimer, GBS, non-permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal, Dr Cheng Hon-kwan, GBS, JP and Mr Anthony KK Chan, Senior Counsel. The committee will submit a report to the Chief Executive in around three months' time.

The committee will examine the procedures in approving the site classification, GFA exemption for the PTT and bonus GFA in return for dedication of the reserved area for public passage in respect of the Sai Wan Ho building plan application, including how and under what circumstances the BA's discretionary powers are exercised.

The committee will also review and advise on whether the BA's discretionary powers have been exercised properly and how the concerned departments may better perform their functions in this area in future.

The developer was required by the Government to provide a Public Transport Terminus (PTT) within the site. When completed, the PTT will provide four public bus routes, one public mini-bus routes, six cross boundary coach routes and a taxi waiting area. The developer had asked for an exemption of the PTT from GFA calculation after the sale of the site. The developer's request was accepted in April 2002.

"Relevant Government departments have already commenced examining and formulating improvement measures before the release of the Audit's Report", the spokesman said.

"These measures include the clarification of the definition of street for the purpose of site classification through the Building (Planning) (Amendment) Regulation which will come into effect next month (December)."

The new Regulation will remove the ambiguity arising from the definition of street for the purpose of site classification.

"The Government has promulgated a set of clear guidelines on how the BA will exercise his discretion in allowing the exemption of PTT from the calculation of GFA to regulate explicitly the power of the BA."

The spokesman also noted that the Government had accepted the Director of Audit's recommendation that it should, prior to the sale of sites, seek legal advice on issues relating to the exemption of GFA on which the legal basis is doubtful.

The Buildings Department has already adopted a new procedure whereby advice on site classification for sale sites or lease modification is determined only by the Building Authority Conference to ensure consistency in decision making.

Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Issued at HKT 20:21