Independent Town Planning Board is essential to ensure all parties' interests
There are growing calls for the Town Planning Board to be independent of the Planning Department. While other organisations that oversee citizens' rights - such as the Ombudsman and Consumer Council - are independent, decisions affecting the fundamental right to a well-planned and sustainable city are currently made 'in-house'.
The board's chairman is the permanent secretary for development (planning and lands). The government is both player and referee so we cannot expect the board to do anything more than rubber stamp plans put forward.
The recent draft Wan Chai outline zoning plan S/H5/26 hearing was an example of the government knows best approach to town planning. Despite 288 objections from professional architects, corporate town planners, real estate developers, green groups, charities, legislators and residents, only one minor amendment was allowed.
The main purpose of the hearing was an exercise to gloss over previous failures by government departments to follow due process. The board rubber-stamped in retrospect a number of developments that were not in compliance with their existing zoning.
Hopewell Holding's QRE Plaza is a striking example. It is a 29- storey commercial development erected on a site zoned open space without a single government department raising any objection. QRE opened in 2007 but four years later we have the board approving rezoning of the site from 'O' (open space) to 'C3' (commercial) zoning to 'reflect the existing commercial use'.
Swire's Pacific Place Three and Hopewell Centre were approved rezoning from 'R/A' (residential) to 'C6' (commercial). This legitimises the fact that both buildings zoned residential with commercial activity on the lower floors, plot ratios of around 9, were constructed as commercial towers to far higher plot ratios and this was unauthorised. Decisions again 'reflect the existing commercial use'. Also the developers will retain the adjusted zonings should they redevelop the sites in future.
Zoning plans are drawn up to keep the small players in line while the big boys can go ahead and build whatever they want.
An independent Town Planning Board is essential to ensure a level playing field and planning decisions that respect the expertise and concerns of all stakeholders.
Candy Tam, Wan Chai