Minister talks up new rules to limit gifts of floor area

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 October, 2010, 12:00am

New rules will be introduced to curtail the ability of developers to ask for bonus floor space to build extra facilities, the development minister says.

This will help discourage the building of giant blocks that create a 'wall effect', improve the neighbourhood environment and increase the living space for flat buyers, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says.

'This is a big change,' she said yesterday, referring to the new policy that will take effect in April. 'But I don't think developers will have strong opposition, given the level playing field.'

The policy aims to control the scale of developments by capping the amount of floor area that can be given to 'green features' and amenities. Facilities and features such as balconies and clubhouses should not exceed 10 per cent of the total gross floor area of a development.

At present, they may be exempted from calculations of the gross floor area, which has proved a bonanza for developers, who get the areas taken up by most of these facilities for free but sell them as part of the gross floor area of a flat.

Widespread abuse has inflated the scale of development but shrunk the usable area of flats for homeowners. The revised policy was announced in the policy address on Wednesday after a one-year review and public consultation.

From April, developers asking for free areas for their facilities should obtain certification from the Green Building Council, which will send experts to assess the environmental performance of a development.

The assessment results, including the amount of energy consumed, should be made public on sales brochures.

For sites larger than two hectares, gaps should be reserved between building blocks to encourage air flow, and green coverage should be provided. Buildings should also be set back to ensure a larger pedestrian area within the site, at least 15 metres wide.

Floor-area concessions will only be considered by the government when the new criteria are met.

In addition, mail rooms and grand entrance halls will no longer be exempt from gross floor area calculations. However, features that can improve the neighbouring environment such as gardens, waste recovery facilities and ventilation corridors will continue to be exempt.

Under the new cap, the thickness of prefabricated walls will be cut by half. The size of bay windows will be reduced by 80 per cent, while clubhouse areas on small sites will be cut from 5 per cent of the domestic area to 2.5 per cent.

The new rules will also apply to car parks that are above ground because developers have exploited them to inflate the scale of a development. They will only be exempt if a developer can prove underground parking is impossible.

Green Building Council chairman Andrew Chan Ka-ching said the compulsory disclosure of new buildings' environmental performance was a big step forward because it would encourage greener buildings with lower carbon emissions.

The size of new developments is expected to be reduced by at least 5 per cent under the new policy.

Developers have rushed to submit building plans in the past few months to avoid the new policy, including projects proposed above West Rail stations.

Because of the reduced space for these extra common facilities, the living area of a flat relative to its gross floor area is expected to rise.

According to Buildings Department figures, the efficiency ratio - dividing saleable area by gross floor area - of flats sold today has dropped dramatically to 76 per cent from 93 per cent 30 years ago.

This is because of the presence of ever larger bay windows and common facilities apportioned to flat owners, which are included in a flat's gross floor area but excluded from the saleable area.

In a recently sold estate cited by the department, the apportioned common areas account for more than 200 sq ft of a 1,030 sq ft flat. But owners are never given an exhaustive list of common areas they have to pay for. It was not until this week that the government said it would consider requiring developers to detail all common areas in sales brochures.

Sleight of hand

Common areas can eat up a lot of a flat's gross floor area

Of a 1,030 sq ft flat in a recently sold estate, cited by the Buildings Department, the number of square feet taken up by common areas is: 200