Minister floats new committee to oversee open space

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am

Group would vet design of public areas

The Development Bureau has proposed the formation of a committee under the Town Planning Board to supervise the design of public open space and will further study the option in its efforts to improve the quality of privately managed open areas.

Planners and landscape architects welcomed Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's announcement that her bureau would review management of open space, but they said clear guidelines defining basic qualities of public open space should be set first.

In a Legislative Council meeting yesterday, Mrs Lam said the government was studying ways to ensure proper design of open space.

One of the possibilities, she said, was to set up a committee under the Town Planning Board that would look at the design details of open space proposed in developments.

'The government could also ask the developer to consult the public on the design as a planning condition,' Mrs Lam said, adding some leases required developers to obtain approval from the head of the Lands Department or Leisure and Cultural Services Department regarding the design of public open spaces.

She said the Development Bureau would get legal advice on imposing restrictions on the use of public open space inside residential developments because there was a risk residents' rights could be infringed.

Greg Wong Chak-yan, vice-chairman of the Town Planning Board, said guidelines should be formed before setting up the committee. 'We do not know what is the best design for open space right now,' he said. 'The designs are often decided at a closed-door meeting after a series of bargains and negotiation between the developer and officials.'

Dr Wong said guidelines should state clearly that only public open space on ground floors is allowed. Clear boundaries should be drawn between public open space and that designated for private use. Developers should also be required to pay long-term management costs to avoid shifting the burden to residents, he said.

Landscape architect and Harbour-front Enhancement Committee member Patrick Lau Hing-tat echoed his views, adding guidelines should include the required area of vegetation. 'The design details should be left to landscape architects,' he said. 'Instead of forming a new committee to decide on designs, the public's views on the location and functions of open space should be gathered at the planning stage.'

Town Planning Board member Ng Cho-nam said it was a good idea to set up a committee to screen and approve public open space designs. But the committee's scope should be extended to cover public facilities, such as flyovers, which are supposed to be provided by developers.

But Local Action activist Chu Hoi-dick said a new committee would help little because detailed designs of residential developments did not need to go through the town planning process at present.

Kim Chan Kim-on, vice-president of the Institute of Planners, said the core problem was accessibility. He said a hotline should be set up to facilitate complaints concerning use of public open space and to provide information.