LCQ2: Land exchange policy

Following is a question by the Hon Yeung Sum and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 4):


To address public concern about issues such as wall effect brought about by development projects and protection of ridgelines and landscapes, the Government is implementing measures to lower the development intensity of some areas in Hong Kong, including stipulating development restrictions, such as plot ratio restrictions and building height restrictions, in the relevant outline zoning plans and land sale or lease conditions. However, such restrictions do not apply to planning applications which have already been approved. Hence, even in crowded old districts such as the Wan Chai District, private developers still have opportunities to launch large-scale development projects and build skyscrapers, without being subject to such development restrictions, which will also affect the traffic in the district. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the existing policy on assessing and approving private developers' applications to the Government for exchanging for or procuring government land, by way of land exchange, for undertaking development projects;

(b) how such a policy ties in with the above measure for lowering development intensity; and

(c) of the procedure for assessing and approving applications for extension of the validity of planning permission and how such procedure ties in with the above measure for lowering development intensity (e.g. how the validity of the planning permission granted in 1994 for constructing a 93-storey building at Queen's Road East and Kennedy Road in Wan Chai has been extended to the present)?


Madam President,

In replying to the Hon Yeung Sum's question, I would like to explain our policies at the outset. To maintain the long-term stable development of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is committed to providing a suitable economic and legal environment. On the land and planning fronts, there should be clear policies and practicable measures to support this. In regard to planning, suitable development restrictions are clearly spelt out in the Outline Zoning Plans (OZPs) through statutory procedures to ensure that land uses are in line with the planning intention. The OZPs are reviewed and updated from time to time to keep pace with changes in circumstances. In regard to land administration, apart from Government or public facilities, we will generally allow the market to undertake suitable development on the site concerned through means like land sale, land grant, lease modification and land exchange, in accordance with the planning intention. We process each development project impartially, and with due regard to the policy intention and contractual spirit of the case.

My reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) Our existing land policy is to optimise the use of land within the framework of land use zonings. Specific arrangements concerning private developers' applications to the Government for land exchange are also in place. In general, the Government will process developers' applications for "in-situ land exchanges", in order to allow the implementation of the approved plans/schemes within the statutory planning framework, e.g. Comprehensive Development Area, whilst upholding the principle of optimisation of the use of land. Some criteria have to be fulfilled for such applications, including where the Government land involved in "in-situ land exchanges" is incapable of reasonable separate alienation or development; where it has no foreseeable public use for the Government land concerned; and that the developers are required to pay full market value premium and this results in a financial return to the Government no less favourable than by separate alienation.

(b) To lower development intensity appropriately, the Town Planning Board (TPB), with the assistance of the Planning Department (PlanD), is reviewing the relevant OZPs. In accordance with the procedures specified under the Town Planning Ordinance, the TPB will conduct public consultation and process objections and representations, and submit the amended OZPs to the Chief Executive in Council for endorsement and approval.

In general, in processing the land exchange applications, the Lands Department (Lands D) will listen to comments of PlanD and other relevant Departments concerned to ensure that the development projects are in line with the planning intention and requirements, i.e. the land use zonings and the development restrictions on the OZPs, as well as the planning permissions granted by the TPB. If a land exchange application involves rezoning or requires planning permission, the Government will consider the application only after the site concerned has been rezoned or the relevant planning permission has been obtained.

However, in reviewing or revising the OZPs, the TPB cannot revoke approved development projects. This should also not be used as the justifications for shelving any land exchange applications processed in accordance with the existing policy and on the basis of approved development projects, especially if the land exchange development projects concerned are consistent with the planning intention of the sites on the OZPs or the planning permissions granted by the TPB.

(c) Since the early 1990s, planning permissions granted by the TPB under section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance (the TPO) are subject to, inter alia, a planning condition on the validity period of the planning permission (for current planning applications, these are in general subject to a time limit of 4 years). The planning permission will cease to have effect by the specified date, unless prior to that date, the permitted development has commenced or an extension of time for the commencement of development has been obtained.

According to the TPB Guidelines, a development project with its building plans approved would be deemed to have commenced. On this premise, even if the relevant OZP is revised subsequently, given that the building plans have been approved before the revision of the OZP and the development has commenced, the project can proceed without being subject to the new planning restrictions, unless major amendments to the relevant building plans are proposed by the landowner concerned. We must appreciate the fact that the planning restrictions of OZPs are only applicable to future new development or redevelopment projects, and that they carry no retrospective effect on the existing developments and those which have commenced but have not yet been completed.

In addition, where an approved development has not commenced within the specified time limit (i.e. the relevant building plans have not been approved within the time limit), the applicant may apply for an extension of time for the commencement of the development. The TPB will consider the relevant application on the basis of a set of assessment criteria, including whether there has been any material change in planning circumstances after the original permission has been granted (such as a change in the planning policy / land-use zonings or planning intention of the area concerned).

As regards the hotel development project in Wan Chai mentioned by the Hon Yeung Sum, since the project was formally approved by the TPB in 1994 and the development is deemed to have commenced as mentioned above, Lands D is processing the landowner's application for land exchange in accordance with the existing land administration policy.

Ends/Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Issued at HKT 13:23