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Government to study PAC's report on the development of a site in Sai Wan Ho

The Legislative Council (Legco) Public Accounts Committee (PAC) submitted a report with its recommendations on the development of a site at Sai Wan Ho to the Legco today (February 15).

As regards the concerns raised in the PAC report about the exercise of discretionary powers by the Building Authority (BA), a spokesman of the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau (HPLB) said such powers are provided under the law. In order for the BA to make corresponding and appropriate decisions under different circumstances, certain discretionary powers are required to be given to the BA.

"Generally speaking, the BA has to consider all relevant factors to ensure that the decision is reasonable, in compliance with the restrictions of relevant laws, and is in the public interest," the spokesman said.

"While the relevant factors vary in each case, Buildings Department (BD) has put in place internal guidelines setting out the factors which may be considered for general guidance. Officers of BD are bound by the internal guidelines of its department, as all civil servants must follow the instructions of the departments they belong to."

"The Chief Executive has already appointed an Independent Committee of Inquiry (ICI) to conduct an in-depth examination on whether discretionary powers have been exercised properly by the BA in respect of the development of the site at Sai Wan Ho. The Committee will also advise on how the concerned departments may better perform their functions in this area in future," he said.

Concerning the recommendation that Government should review the criteria for deciding whether or not the maximum gross floor area (GFA) of a site should be specified, with a view to removing any ambiguities about the development potential of the site, the spokesman said the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands has proactively suggested such a review during the PAC hearing and that the proposal involves both pros and cons and it would be necessary to strike a balance. The Government will carefully consider the recommendations of the PAC and the ICI and decide on the way forward.

As regards the PAC's concern on the communication and coordination among Planning Department (PlanD), Lands Department (LandsD) and BD, the spokesman said, "HPLB sets the general policies relating to planning, land and building aspects, while PlanD, LandsD and BD are responsible for their implementation."

"Other than communicating through correspondence, the three departments also make use of the District Lands Conference, the District Planning Conference and the Building Authority Conference to study cross-departmental subjects. Joint practices notes by the three departments have also been issued to the industry to clarify issues of concern," he said.

"On issues with policy implications, the concerned departments will consult the Bureau for guidance. The Bureau also holds regular meetings with the departments through directors' meeting, housekeeping meetings and ad hoc meetings to discuss major issues of individual departments or cross-departmental issues involving two or more departments. We will continue to enhance the current mechanism to promote coordination among departments," he said.

Responding to criticisms in the report about the way the Government had dealt with the development at Sai Wan Ho, the spokesman said, "The existing mechanism for handling land and property development has been practised for some time and has been operating effectively. Its operation is basically sound. The incident covered by the report happened in 2001. In the past few years, the Government has adopted a series of measures in a bid to further enhance the concerned mechanism."

These improvement measures include:

(1) PlanD has proactively added appropriate development restrictions into statutory town plans, so that the public can express views on developments affecting them through statutory channels in accordance with the Town Planning Ordinance. At present, there are a total of 110 statutory town plans throughout the territory of which 98 have been appended with different levels of plot ratio or GFA restrictions. Among 48 plans which include zones intended for high-density developments, 25 have incorporated the concerned restrictions comprehensively.

(2) Concerning site classification, the BD has stipulated the criteria of a "street" for the purpose of site classification through the Building (Planning) (Amendment) Regulation in order to clearly define site classification. The amendment regulation came into effect on December 31, 2005.

(3) Relevant government departments have strengthened co-ordination under the mechanism to deal with land and property development. The BD has already adopted a new procedure whereby advice sought by the LandsD from BD on site classification for sale sites, land exchange or lease modification is determined only by the Building Authority Conference to ensure consistency in decision making. Should BD encounter any unclear legal issues in determining site classification, it will seek advice from the Department of Justice before offering views to other departments.

(4) For reference of the industry, BD has promulgated a set of clear guidelines on how the BA will exercise discretion in allowing the exemption of Public Transport Terminus (PTT) from the calculation of GFA under Section 23(3)(b) of the Building (Planning) Regulation. BD promulgated in July last year the revised Practice Note for Authorised Persons and Registered Structural Engineers which states that PTT should generally be included in GFA calculation, unless otherwise specified in the concerned OZP or with any specific planning approval for the site.

"In keeping with changes over time, we will strive to enhance the current mechanism to promote fairness and transparency," the spokesman said.

"Given that Mr Leung Chin-man, the BA involved in the case, has been granted leave by the High Court regarding his application for judicial review of parts of the report by the Director of Audit, and that the legal proceedings relating to the concerned application have commenced and the date of hearing has yet to be fixed, it is inappropriate to make any comments on the relevant recommendations of the report by the PAC for the time being."

The Government would carefully study the report and respond to Legco within three months.

Ends/Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Issued at HKT 20:47