Judge blasts developers for wasting time with planning appeals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 3:45am

A judge yesterday accused developers of increasingly using judicial reviews to challenge decisions by city planners, causing serious delays to development.

"There is a worrying tendency for developers to treat judicial reviews against a draft [outline zoning plan] as a rehashing of arguments run before and rejected by the [Town Planning] Board," Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes, of the Court of First Instance, wrote in a judgment in favour of the board.

He made the criticisms when dismissing a judicial review brought by Lindenford, a subsidiary of Citic Pacific.

The developer failed to show that the board was wrong in refusing to relax an 80-metre building height restriction at its site in Kok Cheung Street, Tai Kok Tsui, he said.

Lindenford was also challenging a requirement that it leave a gap between two buildings it was developing. The building restrictions were included in a 2010 draft outline zoning plan for Mong Kok.

The practice of repeating arguments that had little substance wasted time and resources, the judge said.

"Meanwhile, there is a stay of the presentation of the draft to the Executive Committee, and the planning development of Hong Kong is held up," Reyes wrote. "This practice cannot persist."

The judge urged developers to put forward "genuine, viable grounds" for their challenges, instead of treating judicial reviews as a "continuation of the representation process" before the board.

The court may in future charge developers for court costs if they put forward challenges that led to unnecessarily protracted hearings.

Reyes further criticised developers for engaging barristers without first making sure they had time to appear in court.

One cause of delayed hearings, he noted, was that applicants used barristers who had extremely limited time to appear.

"Unfortunately, the development of Hong Kong cannot be held up solely because of the convenience of counsel. That must especially be the case where reviews against draft [outline zoning plans] typically only relate to specific sites within a much large plan," the judge wrote.

He said the court would in future allow parties only a few weeks of leeway in scheduling hearings.