Urban planning

Developers hit back over green features

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am


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Developers are hitting back at moves by the government to stop awarding them extra floor area for putting green features in their projects, saying its approach is 'too simplistic' and is 'not addressing the real issues'.

The Real Estate Developers Association said the real solution to the proliferation of wall-like buildings, poor ventilation, rising urban temperatures, lack of green space and air pollution was to sell less urban land and to use sites now planned for sale to create more open space.

It also urged the government to 'consider carefully' the impact of its proposals on the value of land developers had bought but not yet built on.

The comments came in a statement issued a little more than a week after Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said he might introduce a law to require developers to provide green facilities without concessions.

It was the association's first response to a consultation, launched in June, on whether developers should continue to gain bonus floor area as an incentive to build such features as balconies and sky gardens.

Developers have been allowed to build most of the so-called green features without paying a premium for them for about a decade. Balconies are one exception that they have to pay a premium for, but at a lower price per square foot than that they sell to home hunters. These facilities have been exempt in the calculation of the development?s area.

In Hong Kong, properties are sold based on their gross floor area but there is no clear definition of what a gross floor area is. As a result, developers may pass the cost of exempted green features on to flat buyers.

The practice of granting bonus floor area has been blamed for encouraging developers to build unnecessary or oversized amenities that increase the gross floor area that buyers are charged for and for helping to create tall, bulky, 'wall-like' buildings across the city.

The consultation paper, overseen by the Council for Sustainable Development, was composed by members of several professions and one developer representative.

It asks the public if the concession policy should continue, and how much they are willing to pay for greener buildings. Initial findings in October showed there was general support for a limit on the floor area awarded.

But the association said the government had no proof that the practice was the cause of the bulky buildings. Noting that the proposals would affect land they had bought but not yet built on, the developers said: 'The introduction of any measure which may impact negatively on rights of ownership needs to be considered carefully, and only implemented if no alternative is available.'

To back up its argument, the association cited a consultancy study it had commissioned which said 16 out of 26 urban sites in the land sale list would add to the wall effect and cause congestion on the harbourfront - and therefore should be removed from the list.

'Sites on the sales list which would create problems should be replaced by sites in new development areas, and be rezoned for public open space and community uses,' it said.

It went further to suggest, with illustrations, that prime waterfront sites in North Point and Hung Hom should be taken off the list and turned into public parks.

Analysts noted, however, that any move to end land sales in key areas would benefit developers who had land there, since it would reduce the supply in that area.

The association said the government should concentrate on land sales in the New Territories and new areas such as Kai Tak, and control the development density by imposing conditions in the land lease. The Town Planning Board would be able to control the development, it added.

The association said the floor area concession policy - the major concern of the consultation - was working well and should not be changed.

Some mandatory items currently exempted from the gross floor area calculation, such as refuse storage rooms, water tanks, meter rooms and pump rooms, should continue to be exempted. Car parks, an element that often contributes to the bulky podiums on top of which tall towers are built, should also still be exempted from the calculation, it said.

The association will present its submission with other parties at a Legislative Council meeting next Thursday. Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive of the think tank Civic Exchange that was one of the REDA's consultants, said the association wanted to hear the views of concern groups. The REDA did not dominate the study agenda, she said.

Vincent Ng Wing-shun, a member of the Institute of Architects' taskforce that has given proposals to limit the floor area concessions, said the floor area exemption was one factor that contributed to the undesirable environment and therefore it should not be dismissed as irrelevant.