Property developers and the Urban Renewal Authority will be given a maximum of 12 years to start work on large-scale projects after they are approved - up from eight years, town planners say.
The change is aimed at minimising the risks and hurdles that plague more complicated projects. But one town planner warned of a greater potential for conflict the longer a development drags on.
Ng Cho-nam, a town planning professor at the University of Hong Kong, said the measure would just delay the process. "By the time they're finally finished, the projects may not meet public expectations because of increasing environmental awareness and changing social sentiment," Ng, a former Town Planning Board member, said.
The board agreed yesterday to revise its guideline on planning approval, as proposed by the Planning Department. The change covers both new projects and redevelopments.
Under the old rules, developers and the URA must start their projects within eight years of receiving approval from the board: an initial four years from the date of approval, which can be extended for another four years.
If not, they must reapply.
Now, the board can give initial approval of five or six years; and an extension of five or six years can also be given. That means developers could have up to 12 years to start work on a project.
The department said this meant construction work on the whole development of a project must be under way, not just the first phase.
Board chairman Thomas Chow Tat-ming, who is also permanent secretary for the Development Bureau, questioned whether the change would give developers a loophole so that they could time the work to coincide with a bullish market.
A department spokesman said: "Board members should study carefully the justifications for granting a longer period.
"Members can give the minimum of four years if the justifications are weak."