Paper details reforms aimed at speeding housing supply
A consultative working paper being circulated within the Government details changes to production procedures that will be presented by the task force known as the Steering Committee on Land Supply for Housing (Houscom) later this year, according to a source close to the Government.
Houscom was unveiled last week by the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in his inaugural policy speech, with a mandate to bring about a 'radical reform of planning and co-ordination functions within the Government' and to shorten production times for property developers.
The committee is chaired by Financial Secretary Sir Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and its members include the heads of various government departments in land and planning areas.
While the working paper does not go so far as to create an overriding body and a single application window that developers have been arguing for, it is said to go some way in eliminating overlapping procedures within the approvals process and strengthening co-ordination between departments.
Also under the paper, a committee to deal with appeals in relation to projects in the private sector would be formed.
The source said that development approval processes being targeted for streamlining were planning, land, environmental and building.
For example, in planning approvals, formal guidelines would be published to make more transparent the Planning Department's decision-making process and 'district planning conferences would be strengthened'.
There also would be a stricter performance pledge to further shorten application lead times.
In the land approval process, the Lands Department would be given additional authority, simplifying the land transaction process by allowing more decisions to be made solely by the Lands Department.
Also, layout plans for projects would no longer be required to be marked out in deed changes.
In environmental approvals, the application process would be changed from the present case-by-case examination to follow a published set of standards.
Significantly, the source also said that projects less than two hectares in plot size would no longer need to get environmental approval.
For building approvals, the source said that a centralised authority system would be set up, and that applications for foundation works would be simplified.
The source said the working paper was partially developed in consultation with industry groups, including the Real Estate Developers Association and the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors.
Hong Kong Society of Real Estate Administration vice-president John Hui said that the SAR administration seemed to be serious in its intentions to overhaul the housing production process.
'There seems to be a real framework in place with Houscom to change the system,' he said.
Mr Hui said that the biggest problem facing developers had been the lack of co-ordination within the Government in dealing with the development process.
'There are almost 20 departments within the Government that developers have to deal with,' he said, adding that contradictions between departments in defining terms and regulations were not uncommon.