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Time for an Overhaul of the Town Planning Process

Unlike many of our global rivals, here in Hong Kong we have to cope with the challenges of an extremely densely populated city. Our living and working environment must be fit for purpose if we are to stay competitive in a rapidly changing world.

To make the best use of the land and resources that we have, we need to make sure the town planning process is fast, efficient and painless as possible.

Unfortunately, that is currently not the case. At present, development and construction are overseen by three government departments -- the Planning Department, Lands Department and Buildings Department – all of which operate on different standards and criteria. In addition, there is the Town Planning Board (TPB), which also deals with development and use of land.

This is not only inefficient and a waste of resources, but also confusing for applicants who face different rules and regulations. Such duplication and conflict of work and standards only ensures inefficiency, frustration, and inertia. Addressing this problem is a key focus for the Chamber, which is why we are calling for a review of legislation to make sure Hong Kong businesses are not burdened with unnecessary administrative procedures or held back by outdated rules.

The Chief Executive Carrie Lam is aware of our views, and in her Policy Address promised that she would encourage heads of government departments to streamline their administrations and improve collaboration. We can only hope that this is translated into reality, as a more efficient procedure is clearly required to improve our town planning process, among other areas.

We have also been sharing our members’ views and suggestions to other government departments. In our recent letter to the Director of Planning, we listed concrete measures to improve the town planning process, with streamlining the decision-making process being at the top of the list. Combining the work of the three departments involved is the most obvious solution, as it would save time and money, and make the application process much smoother.

We have also suggested that the process for approvals be reviewed. Although there is already a centralized system to approve building plans, the process can take many months. This is due partly to the differing vetting criteria among the departments involved, and also a lack of cooperation between the departments. One solution would be for the Government to provide a consistent set of standards on key areas, such as gross floor area and building height. Relevant departments also need to improve communicate with one another so they are not operating in silos.

The TPB itself is also overdue for a review, given that the board has been criticized by the courts recently for its inefficiency and for the heavy demands on its members, who often do not have time to review the necessary materials. An increase in the membership of the TPB would be one way to alleviate this problem, while hiring an independent planning consultant to review materials in advance would also help to ease the burden on its members.

We understand the tight supply of land here comes with unique challenges, but despite this we have managed to become a global success story. Many aspects of our urban development – including our transport network and new town developments -- are the envy of cities around the world.

While we have much to blow our trumpet about, we also need to keep vigilant if we are to remain “Asia’s World City.” We need to be able to move quickly -- not just on building and construction projects but in all areas of business and development if we are to retain our competitive edge.

The private sector can help, and members of Hong Kong’s real estate industry are ready to help the Government find solutions to improve our quality of life and ensure we stay one step ahead of the competition.

Posted on 2018/01/30