New rules can apply to existing public space, minister says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2010, 12:00am

The management guidelines proposed to govern use of public open space on future private developments could be applied to some existing cases, the development chief said yesterday as the guidelines were questioned by lawmakers.

Released for consultation last week, the guidelines specify design rules, minimum opening hours and permissible activities, aiming to improve the accessibility and vibrancy of future public open space.

The Development Bureau said the guidelines would only apply to new public open space because the government could not modify land leases regulating existing open space.

At a meeting of the Legislative Council's development panel yesterday, some lawmakers said the guidelines were of little use for the 40 existing public open spaces on private land, some of which are on podium levels of residential developments or subject to restrictive rules set by developers to discourage public use.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor responded that the government had some ability to force developers of existing open space to comply with the guidelines.

Land leases of some spaces contained a condition that the design and management should be subject to the satisfaction of the director of the Lands Department, she said. 'Under these land leases, there's room for us to require developers to follow the guidelines,' she said.

Most developers were willing to accept the government's advice, she said, adding that it was not necessary to give the guidelines legal status.

A complaints mechanism already existed to prevent developers or flat owners from excluding the public from open space they were entitled to use, Lam said.

Democratic Party legislator Lee Wing-tat urged the government to require developers to provide space at ground level. 'For those located on the seventh and tenth floors of a private development, it took me about 10 minutes to find them,' he said.

Eighteen of the 40 existing public open spaces on private land are on podium levels, but Lam said new open space would be provided at ground level as far as possible.

The guidelines do not rule out commercial activities, but they are limited to using only 10 per cent of the area. 'The management company will need to gain consensus from district councils on the designs and whether some commercial activities are allowed,' Lam said.

At the same meeting, lawmakers urged the government to relax an eligibility requirement affecting flat owners wanting to apply for government subsidies to refurbish buildings older than 30 years - that the number of flats in the building not exceed 400.

Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said some old buildings in To Kwa Wan were designed as complexes of linked blocks.

'The complex often has more than 400 flats and is governed by one or two deeds of mutual covenant,' Lee said.

Lam said the bureau would consider removing the requirement for the next round of applications, expected to start in the middle of the year. She also agreed to explore the possibility of non-profit organisations helping to maintain and manage buildings that did not have owners' corporations.