Is the Town Planning Board a watchdog or a lapdog for the government? If you read the relevant ordinance, it is tasked with looking after the health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the public; more specifically, the use and development of land in the way it may affect communities and neighbourhoods.
But it is now in danger of becoming another government department. Worse, by being perceived as quasi-independent, it gives the government cover for dubious land development plans.
That has been the pernicious effect of Leung Chun-ying's drive to find more land for housing. He wants to convert, for example, 36 sites zoned for government, institution or community (GIC) use, for housing. The entire list, which includes rezoning a large area next to Baptist University to build flats, deserves close scrutiny. But it looks like the board can only be counted on to rubber-stamp these GIC conversions to residential use.
In a recent board minute, the board's chairman and vice-chairman spelled out what they consider its duties to be. Subtitled "role and powers of the board", it makes for depressing reading. The chairman said "the Chief Executive was the fountainhead in the planning process and the Board should only prepare plans for such areas as the CE might direct". Fountainhead! Can anyone be more obsequious?
Not only are government policies "one of the considerations that the Board was required to take into account when performing its planning functions", the vice-chairman added that "the Board needed to work within the policies of the Government". What nonsense!
Clearly knowing he had gone too far, the vice-chairman added as an aside that "the role of the Board was similar to other statutory bodies such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption or the Equal Opportunities Commission in that they were expected to operate independently under the powers provided by their respective ordinances". However, and this is the punchline, "in the end they were responsible to the CE".
If you ever thought we could rely on the board to monitor the government and private developers, think again. It's the board that needs monitoring.