Members of the public who make comments on planning applications to the Town Planning Board will no longer be informed of the dates of the board's meetings or its decisions after a surge in the number of comments left its secretariat unable to cope.
Under new guidelines adopted by the board yesterday, people who make comments will no longer receive notice in writing, by mail or e-mail, of when the board will debate the application in question. Nor will they be sent a letter notifying them of the board's decision, nor the relevant extract from the board's minutes.
Instead, anyone interested in attending the board's discussion of an application will have to check the date of the meeting on its website. The board said the Planning Department, which provides its secretarial support, had been overwhelmed by the number of comments.
The change applies to applications section 12a and section 16 of the planning rules, which cover requests to rezone or change the use of a site, except where the government is the applicant.
"Recently, over 78,900 public comments were received for a section 12A application," a Planning Board spokesman said, referring to a developer's application to rezone public open space in Laguna City, Lam Tin, for a hotel. "Given the large amount of comments, issuing acknowledgement and notification letters to commenters has taken up a lot of resources … and is also environmentally unfriendly as a huge amount of paper is consumed."
Paul Zimmerman, founder of urban planning pressure group Designing Hong Kong, said the change in the rules was reasonable given the number of comments. But he urged the board to be more transparent by putting more documents online.
"At present they upload some general papers. But they often do it late… I think they should make it mandatory for applicants to upload a PDF file detailing their applications," he said.
Government applications, such as the rezoning of a site on the harbourfront for a military pier, which received thousands of comments, would not be covered by the change in rules.