Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong Kah-kit and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (January 12):
Since the Nam Sang Wai development project was approved by the Town Planning Board (TPB) in 1996, development works have not yet commenced. In the meantime, public awareness of conservation of the environment and ecology has been raised. The Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (Cap. 499) was implemented in 1998 followed by the issuance of TPB Guidelines concerning the planning in Deep Bay Wetland Conservation Area in 1999. TPB has also introduced the "no-net-loss on wetland" principle for considering development proposals in order to protect the wetlands and fish ponds in areas around Lut Chau. Yet, there are comments that as the developer had applied for three times in 2001, 2004 and 2007 respectively and was approved each time to extend the time for commencement of Nam Sang Wai development project, and statutory regulations which were enacted after the approval of the lay-out plan of the project in 1994 do not have any retrospective effect on the project, the project is therefore not required to undergo the existing statutory Environmental Impact Assessment process, hence the current conservation standard cannot be reflected in the project. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that the developer only holds less than 80% of the land for the Nam Sang Wai development project, and it needs to obtain the remaining some 20% of land by means of land exchange with the Government in order to commence the project, whether the Bureau concerned will approve the exchange of land; if it will, of the conditions to be imposed;
(b) whether it knows the respective justifications for TPB to approve the previous three applications for extending the time for commencement of the Nam Sang Wai project;
(c) whether it knows, in the past five years, the total number of projects approved by TPB for which application for extension of the time for commencement had been made for more than once; the percentage of such number in the total number of projects for which applications for such extension had been made; whether TPB will issue new guidelines to prohibit automatic extension of the validity period of the lay-out plans of development projects after approval is given to extend the time for their commencement; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) whether the Bureau concerned will review the planning in the New Territories to focus on the development of the "brownfield" sites which have already been damaged in order to preserve wetlands and farmlands from destruction; if it will, of the timetable for the review; if not, the reasons for that?
Regarding the Nam Sang Wai case, the applicant submitted a planning application to the Town Planning Board (TPB) in 1992 for residential development and golf course at Nam Sang Wai, and a nature reserve at Lut Chau. The application was rejected by the Rural and New Town Planning Committee (RNTPC) of the TPB and the TPB itself in 1992 and 1993 respectively. It was subsequently allowed with conditions by the Town Planning Appeal Board (TPAB) in 1994, and the TPAB's decision was upheld by the Privy Council in 1996. There were a total of 27 conditions attached to the planning permission, including but not limited to the submission of environmental impact assessment reports and habitat creation/management plan. The applicant had been granted extension of time (EOT) for commencement of the development project for three times, and the planning permission was valid until December 18, 2010.
On October 29, 2010, the applicant submitted an application under Section 16A(2) of the Town Planning Ordinance for further EOT for three years until December 18, 2013. On December 10, 2010, after considering all relevant planning considerations, the RNTPC rejected the application for extension.
My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(a) The Lands Department (LandsD) has not received any land exchange application. There is thus no basis for it to consider any such arrangement.
(b) Approval for EOT had been granted three times to the applicant in the past. The details are set out as follows.
On December 14, 2001, the TPB approved the first EOT application and the validity of the planning permission was extended for three years (instead of the five years sought by the applicant) up to December 18, 2004. The major considerations were that the applicant required considerable time to process the various submissions to address the comments from relevant Government departments and the applicant had demonstrated efforts to fulfil the approval conditions (including submission of master layout plan and assessment reports on environmental impact, drainage impact and traffic impact, etc., between March 2000 and October 2001).
On October 8, 2004, the TPB approved the second EOT application and the validity of the planning permission was extended for another three years up to December 18, 2007. The major consideration was that the applicant had made submissions to fulfil the approval conditions (including submission of master layout plan, master landscape plan and environmental impact assessment report, etc., as well as fulfillment of three approval conditions between December 2002 and September 2004).
The third EOT application by the applicant was made under section 16A of the Town Planning (Amendment) Ordinance as a Class B amendment to the above planning permission. On September 28, 2007, the Director of Planning (D of Plan) approved the application under delegated authority of the TPB and further extended the validity of the planning permission for three years up to December 18, 2010. The major considerations were that the applicant had demonstrated efforts to make submissions (including the submission of master landscape plan and assessment reports on environmental impact and traffic impact between August 2005 and September 2007) to fulfil the approval conditions since the 2004 EOT approval; more time was required to resolve outstanding issues and reach agreement with the concerned Government departments on the technical reports under the relevant approval conditions.
Nevertheless, the applicant had been informed in the letter of EOT approval that a further extension of the validity of the planning permission would be outside the scope of Class B amendments, and any request for further extension would need to be submitted in the form of a fresh planning application under Section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance.
(c) The purpose of specifying a validity period for commencement of development when granting a planning permission is to ensure that approved development proposals will be implemented within a certain time frame. If an applicant fails to commence the approved development proposal within the specified period, the planning permission will lapse. While application can be made to the TPB for EOT, it is not an arrangement for "automatic extension of the validity period".
To facilitate implementation of the Town Planning (Amendment) Ordinance 2004 (Amendment Ordinance), the Administration drew up a series of TPB Guidelines in 2005 after consultation with stakeholders at the drafting stage. The proposals were detailed in a paper submitted to the LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works in 2005. The TPB Guidelines on Extension of Time for Commencement of Development and Guidelines for Class A and Class B Amendments to Approved Development Proposals have clearly spelt out the considerations in handling applications for extension of time for commencement of development. The Amendment Ordinance came into effect on June 10, 2005 and the TPB subsequently promulgated these Guidelines.
Generally speaking, the time for commencement of a development project approved by the TPB is four years, so as to keep pace with the development of Hong Kong. While an applicant may apply for EOT, the period of extension or the aggregate of all the periods of extension shall not exceed the original duration for commencement of the approved development proposal. The Administration considers it fairly adequate to allow the applicant eight years (i.e. four years of the validity period plus a period of extension not exceeding another four years) to commence the approved development proposal. As there may be major changes in planning considerations and community aspirations, the Administration considers it reasonable to require the applicant to submit a fresh planning application after eight years to allow members of the public to express their views on the application. Applications with "period of extension, or aggregate of all the periods of extensions not exceeding the original duration for commencement of the approved development proposal" fall within Class B Amendments. The applicant shall apply to the TPB under section 16A(2) of the Town Planning Ordinance. If the original permission for extension had been granted prior to the commencement of the Amendment Ordinance, according to the Practice Note for Professional Persons (PNPP) No. 5/2005 on "Basis for Determining Class A and Class B Amendments Under Section 16A of Town Planning Ordinance" promulgated by the Planning Department, the duration allowed in the last approval given by the TPB or the D of Plan under delegated authority of the TPB shall be taken as the maximum duration for further extension of the planning permission.
In the past five years (as of December 15, 2010), the TPB approved a total of 163 EOT applications, among which 52 involved request for EOT for more than once. All the EOT applications approved met the requirement regarding the duration for commencement of development for Class B amendments above.
(d) The TPB has prepared statutory plans for most areas in the New Territories, specifying the respective land use and planning intention. In preparing the plans, the TPB has followed the statutory procedures and attended to local concern and planning considerations of the various districts, including nature conservation. Apart from the determination of appropriate zoning for land suitable for development, some environmentally/ecologically sensitive areas have been brought under due regulation, such as through designation as "conservation areas" or "sites of special scientific interest".
Town planning is an ongoing task. The Administration duly reviews land use in different areas having regard to the individual circumstances, with a view to striking a balance between the environment, development and social needs. To meet the overall development needs of Hong Kong, the Administration will identify new development areas with a view to converging developments systemically in suitable areas subject to environmental impact, traffic and infrastructure feasibility to be ascertained through detailed planning and engineering studies, while avoiding negative impacts to the natural environment and achieving sustainable development. At present, the North East New Territories New Development Areas Planning and Engineering Study is currently underway, and the planning and engineering study for the Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area, which is located in North West New Territories, is expected to commence this year.
Ends/Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:46