The Hong Kong government has been urged by 12 environmental groups to retract a proposal to streamline procedures related to land development, which includes limiting who is allowed to submit a rezoning application and not consulting the public on those applications.

The groups – including Greenpeace, the Conservancy Association, the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, and the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society – held a press conference on Monday to refute the suggested amendments ahead of the proposals at the Legislative Council on Tuesday.

March 21 presser (Copy)
Twelve Hong Kong environmental groups opposing government plans to streamline development-related statutory processes on March 21, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The proposal, submitted by the Development Bureau, suggested reducing a series of statutory procedures in six ordinances: Town Planning Ordinance, Lands Resumption Ordinance, Foreshore and Sea-bed (Reclamations) Ordinance, Roads (Works, Use and Compensation) Ordinance, Railways Ordinance, and Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance.

The changes proposed included allowing reclamation projects to begin before the government had completed preparing and approving a statutory plan, and reducing multiple rounds of public consultation on statutory plans to just one round.

The government also proposed to only allow current landowners of the relevant site, related public officers or public bodies to submit rezoning applications. Currently anyone is allowed to submit rezoning applications “to propose amendments to an Outline Zoning Plan or a Development Permission Area Plan.”

Housing land supply
Housing estates in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Once the rezoning application has been submitted to the Town Planning Board, the board is currently required to publish the application “for public inspection.” Anyone is able to submit their views on the applications to the board.

The government proposed “dispensing with the need for inviting public comments,” and by doing so, saving a month’s time.

‘Reclaim first, plan later’

Ng Hei-man, campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, said that the amount of time taken up by public consultation was relatively small, offering two plans in Ma On Shan and Tsuen Wan as examples.

Ng Hei-man
Ng Hei-man, campaign manager of the Conservancy Association. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The Ma On Shan plan, which involved developing housing near the Ma On Shan Country Park and Cheung Muk Tau, took eight years from when the plan was first mentioned in the policy address to it being approved by the chief executive and the Executive Council. The public consultation period took 108 days, or 3.7 per cent of the total time.

Meanwhile, it took a little over eight years for the proposal of the development private housing near Yau Kom Tau Village in Tsuen Wan from it was first mentioned in the policy address to when it was approved by the chief executive. Public consultation took 82 days.

The groups also expressed concern over allowing reclamation constructions to begin before planning was completed, saying that it would create “a planning crisis.”

Chu Kong
Chu Kong (middle), programme manager of Greenpeace. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Chu Kong, programme manager of Greenpeace, said that the approach was unreasonable, and used the reclamation in West Kowloon as an example, where Chu said that some of the land was basically used as brownfield sites, referring to land that is not currently in use. According to Chu, how the land would be used should have been considered before it was reclaimed, and using it as brownfield would be a waste

“We are very concerned that Lantau Tomorrow will become another example,” Chu said, referring to Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s gargantuan and controversial plan to create 1,000 hectares of artificial islands off Lantau Island for housing and business. 

“If the government continues to use the approach of ‘reclaim first, plan later,’ we have a reasonable concern that more areas will be used like brownfields or left vacant,” Chu said.

HKFP has reached out to the Development Bureau for comment.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.