CUMBERSOME PROCEDURES in town planning are a key factor exacerbating Hong Kong’s housing shortage. At present, it takes at least 10 years to transform a plot of land into an apartment block. There are numerous stages to go through, from preliminary town planning, to transformation of the land into “spade-ready” sites, to completion of flat building, to certifying the block ready for people to move into.
For the development of some mega-scale residential projects which involve reclamation works, the entire process can take 15 years or more.
To be fair, the government has taken some action to propose amendments on relevant town planning procedures in an attempt to speed up land and housing development without compromising broad social engagement and consensus. But more needs to be done.
17 MONTHS OF COMMENTS
Currently, Hong Kong’s town planning system is complicated. The Town Planning Board is the main body responsible for the planning process. Following the steps laid down by the Town Planning Ordinance, the plan-making process includes several stages under which any individual can comment on a draft plan. The completion of the entire process may take as long as 17 months.
Major road and railway schemes and all reclamation works have to be authorised based on relevant ordinances, such as Foreshore and Seabed (Reclamations) Ordinance, before implementation.
The Development Bureau has earlier proposed changes to laws including the Town Planning Ordinance to streamline procedures and shorten the time needed. One of the proposed amendments is to invite only one round of representations in the plan-making process to focus on key matters and avoid repeated opinions, thereby compressing the whole town-planning process from 17 months now to just nine.
“I think proper engagement, whatever form of consultation, is essential in places like Hong Kong,” Mr Andrew Lam Siu-lo (left), one of the best-known town planners in the city, said in an interview in Friday Kongversation, a current affairs programme produced by Friday Culture.
“We talk about diversity, we talk about equity and we talk about inclusivity. Now, these are all the essential elements of a civic society. But that said we should not be kind of indulging ourselves in repetitive engagement on the same subject.”
“It is not just a waste of time, but these are public resources that lead to serious social cost.”Andrew Lam
Lam also cited another example: studies on traffic impact assessment in a particular district often overlap. “It is not just a waste of time, but these are public resources that lead to serious social cost. And the social cost is the delay in land supply and housing supply,” Mr Lam said.
“I must stress planning is just one minor part of the entire process,” said the veteran town planner. “When you get the planning done, we have to deal with land registration, we have to deal with infrastructure development and we have to deal with buildings before we can live in a place or work in a place. The entire process has got hundreds of different administrative tasks, which in my view, has room to be streamlined.”
ECO ASSESSMENTS SLOW
Hong Kong has had an Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance for more than two decades. While everyone agrees that is a good thing, the time required can be very long, often three or four years, and sometimes more.
Along with the suggestions to accelerate town planning procedures, the Environment Bureau has earlier proposed to expedite EIA studies, including ecological impact assessment, air and water quality, and noise impact assessments. One of the suggestions include that EIA studies can be conducted in tandem with the detailed design of projects to compress the timeline.
Also, the bureau has suggested developing an open centralised environmental database, which will cover data on ecology and other environmental aspects from the EIA studies. The data can be used by consultants in engaging in EIA studies, and for the purpose of conducting research by academics.
At present, the average waiting time for a public housing flat has risen to 5.9 years – a 22-year-high.
Hong Kong’s residential properties prices are still hardly affordable for most families. There is no better time than now to push for revamping statutory procedures and laws to speed up town planning process. The government can be open-minded in exploring any option that will substantially boost housing and land supply.
Town planning is all about distribution of resources and good urban planning can contribute to the betterment of citizens’ living and make our city a good place for living in.
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