The government’s proposal to streamline development procedures would reduce public participation, a Hong Kong research group has said after the administration announced a draft bill aiming to speed up development projects.

The Development (Town Planning, Lands and Works) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2022 was published by the government on Thursday, and will be submitted to the Legislative Council next Wednesday.

Hong Kong housing. Photo: GovHK.

The amendments covered six ordinances, and suggestions included allowing reclamation work to be conducted at the same time as development planning, without having to wait for the completion of an outline zoning plan as prescribed under the Town Planning Ordinance.

The government also planned to shorten the plan-making period, and allow the Town Planning Board to impose a time limit on oral representation of attendees at hearings, while requiring representers to attend in person.

Under the proposed bill, the time required to transform a piece of land from a “primitive” into a “spade ready” site ready for development will be reduced from at least six years to four years. The time needed for large-scale projects such as New Development Areas will be compressed from 13 years to seven years, a spokesperson from the Development Bureau said in a statement on Thursday.

“We have formulated the legislative amendment proposals under the Bill, having duly considered the views of the public and relevant stakeholders in striving to strike an appropriate balance among the various objectives,” the spokesperson said.

Lantau Tomorrow Vision. Photo: GovHK.

“Apart from enhancing speed and efficiency, the proposals will ensure that development procedures remain professionally based with suitable public participation, and allow us to process rehousing and compensation matters for affected persons at the earliest opportunity.”

‘Dominant’ administrative power

Non-profit organisation Liber Research Community said that the proposed amendments would result in the government being a “dominant” administrative power, with the space for public participation reduced.

“Not only would ordinary citizens’ right to participate and right to apply for rezoning be overridden, so too would the Legislative Council’s power to vet funding for projects, rendering it a rubber stamp,” the research group said in Thursday.

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

The government’s plan to allow the Town Planning Board to impose a time limit at hearings might also affect people’s right to equal participation, as representatives of land developers could be given more time to state their case, while ordinary residents might be asked to end their presentation early.

The proposal to let reclamation work begin before planning is completed could also lead to more “destructive” development projects going ahead.

This would also allow the controversial Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan to proceed without first confirming its use, the group said, referring to former chief executive Carrie Lam’s gargantuan development project that involves constructing 1,000 hectares of artificial islands off Lantau Island for housing and business. 

Jacqueline Hui, a researcher from the pro-Beijing think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation told RTHK on Thursday that the government had responded to the citizens’ expectation of speeding up housing supply.

However, the researcher also said that the amendment alone was “obviously not sufficient,” and that the administration should also introduce administrative efforts, including handling land exchange applications earlier.

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Candice Chau

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.