New rules proposed on 'green features'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am

A top-level government advisory body has proposed new rules to limit the ability of developers to sell so-called green features - which are exempt or near-exempt from land premiums - to apartment buyers as part of their flats.

Recommendations from the Council for Sustainable Development include a cap on the amount of floor-area concessions developers can obtain for these features.

It also suggests removing concessions for mail delivery rooms and lift corridors without natural ventilation and a reduction in concessions for balconies, utility platforms, clubhouses, prefabricated external walls and minor features such as kiosks, office stores, guardrooms and watchmen's toilets.

It also wants a review of whether bay windows, for which developers also receive concessions, actually improve a living environment.

Under the incentive scheme set up by the government in 2001, developers pay little or no land premiums for such features, which they then sell to buyers at market price as part of the floor areas of their flats.

Critics say the concessions have also resulted in overly dense and podium-led developments that block air circulation, because developers are allowed to increase gross floor areas if they include green features and amenities in their designs.

After a year-long public consultation, council chairman Bernard Chan announced more than 50 recommendations yesterday, including giving more concessions to underground car parks than those above ground.

Apart from proposing a cap on concessions, the council said that in the long run, the government should consider linking them with the green building labelling scheme, meaning that the higher a building's environmental rating, the more concessions a developer could obtain.

Reducing the room for developers to inflate the size of flats could reduce the land premiums they were willing to pay, but Chan said that was not the council's concern. 'The public is obviously dissatisfied with current arrangements and demands a change,' Chan said.

The council did not recommend a level at which the concessions should be capped. 'Our role is to collect public views. The government will have to calculate the percentage,' Chan said. Some submissions had proposed a percentage, but the views were diverse and consensus could not be reached.

For example, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects proposed capping concessions at 12 per cent of total floor areas while environmental group Green Sense proposed capping them at 7 to 10 per cent.

'It requires scientific studies to reach a reasonable percentage,' Chan said, 'The council has already listed the public's demands and urged the government to enhance flat sales transparency. We are not a paper tiger.'

He said the council saw all the recommendations as feasible: 'I don't see why developers can refuse to adopt them.'

Professor Bernard Lim Wan-fung, who chairs the council's support group, said some council members representing the property sector opposed the cap during discussions but the council had adopted only majority views. To minimise development impacts, the council also recommended guidelines which would regulate space between buildings and width of streets.

Developers would also be asked to annex 20 to 30 per cent of a site for greenery and monitor its maintenance for the life of the development.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the bureau would study the set of recommendations.

Lee Wing-tat, the Democratic Party's spokesman on housing affairs, said the government should cap concessions so developers could increase a development's gross floor area by no more than 15 per cent in return for putting in green and amenity features.

He was also sceptical about the idea of allowing the Professional Green Building Council, formed by architects, engineers and surveyors, to use the green building labelling scheme as a reference to determine the amount of concessions a developer could obtain.

'Most building professionals in Hong Kong work for developers,' he said. 'The council members should disclose interests if they take up assessment work.'

Wong Kam-sing, an architect on the council and a founding member of the Professional Green Building Council, said it would take time to collect data to ensure the extra concessions given would not unreasonably increase a development's size.

'In the US, assessors are kept anonymous so developers don't know who assesses their building,' he said. Under present building regulations, bay windows are exempted from floor area calculations. But Wong said they were designed for buildings in northern cities to allow more sunlight into flats. 'In Hong Kong, too many big bay windows increase a flat's temperature and consumes more energy,' he said.

Green Sense president Roy Tam said he was disappointed by the absence of a specified cap.

Green review

A cap is sought on gross floor area concessions awarded for the use of 'green' building features

The Council for Sustainable Development has come up with this number of recommendations: 50

Setting limits

One of the Council for Sustainable Development's recommendations

At new projects or redevelopments, the government should impose a mandatory minimum on developers to provide greenery of this much on a site: 30%