Was green policy really meant to work like this?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 December, 2010, 12:00am

Equality before the law should be a hallmark of any legal system. But that raises the question about how laws and policies are written and implemented. Consider the policy encouraging developers to improve living standards by including green features in buildings. On the face of it, this is a good idea - the guiding principles when it went into effect almost a decade ago were sustainability and making the city greener.

In that spirit, developers were offered incentives in the form of exemption from calculation of gross floor area for constructing features like balconies, wider corridors and gardens. When buildings get more common areas, all the residents of that development benefit, at least in theory. But what if there is only one resident?

Our richest citizen, Li Ka-shing, is among people who have used the policy to make their private homes substantially bigger than originally planned. He has been granted a bonus 9,100 square feet at his 8,842 sq ft residence at 79 Deep Water Bay Road for a car park, plant room and green features. That is nice for him - and we certainly do not begrudge him the space he is entitled to under the policy - but it does raise the question of whether this is the way the scheme was intended to work. Does giving owners of mansions - and their family and friends - more private space make Hong Kong greener and more pleasant overall?

A policy intended to help make private building developments more livable surely should not be used on private homes. You can hardly blame tycoons for taking advantage of the rules, but it does raise the issue of why the government does not close the loophole.

In any case, the policy, even as it applies to large developments, has its share of flaws. Before the policy, a 600 sq ft flat was sold largely as that, less some amount for common areas like stairwells. These days, it takes tape measures and calculators to figure out just how big a 600 sq ft flat really is, as many common green features have been factored into the saleable area. Changes are afoot, with new rules in April lessening the advantages for developers. But we could do more, such as not applying the green policy to private houses.