Developers' land-use applications put on hold

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 12:00am

The system controlling sites granted under private treaty is being reviewed

Applications by property developers to change the land use of sites granted under private treaty for community-related projects have been put on hold while the system is reviewed, the housing minister said yesterday.

The system has been criticised for a lack of transparency by lawmakers, who say it is open to collusion between officials and developers.

Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung said at a meeting of Legco's planning, lands and works panel that there were loopholes which needed plugging, but he did not go into details.

'We are going through the files. We want to find out the problems and study how to fine-tune the system. We want the study to be completed as soon as possible,' he said.

Mr Suen said the government was preparing a list that details land granted by private treaty - sold directly rather than through auction. The list will include sites on which developers paid premiums to change their use to residential or commercial purposes.

The government grants land for a nominal amount to groups and companies under private treaties to allow the construction of community facilities, such as schools, churches, welfare centres and oil and power stations. Developers who purchase the sites and want to change their use must pay a premium. The procedure requires negotiations with officials and approval from the Executive Council.

A total of 20.9 hectares of land was granted last year under private treaties. Mr Suen said there was a consensus that the government should come up with a way to deal with the issue.

'I want it to come out as soon as possible. There are applications on the table, but I don't think it is appropriate to handle the applications before we come up with a new method,' he said.

Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun said he hoped the new system would be fair and free from any chance of collusion.

Mr To said he was sceptical about Exco's gate-keeping role. 'Property developers have their representatives at Exco. Exco decisions are often business decisions.'

Lau Chun-kong, a regional director of property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle, said he did not expect the halt on applications would have a big impact on property supply.

Meanwhile, Town Planning Board meetings could open to the public as early as May.

Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan urged legislators to approve the date proposed for implementing the amended Town Planning Ordinance.

Under the amendment, the public will be allowed to attend meetings when applicants present their cases. But discussion will still be held behind closed doors to avoid sensitive issues being leaked.