The government says the new Development Opportunities Office, to be set up in the middle of the year, will not replace statutory planning procedures. Concerns had been expressed that the office could exert political pressure on departments examining private projects that it supported. 'The office is not a statutory body and will not replace the role of the Town Planning Board,' Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday. Mrs Lam said it was also not designed to replace other watchdogs, such as the Antiquities Advisory Board and the Advisory Council on the Environment, but only to speed up the process. When the office received a proposal from a private landowner, it would co-ordinate bureaus and departments and conduct analysis. Projects would have to bring benefits in terms of tourism, logistics, the environment or heritage conservation. 'A proposal may not be fit for the existing land use,' Mrs Lam said. 'The office will assess the building density and its impact on surrounding landscape. It will also look at land exchange and lease modification matters but will not take an execution role.' The office would then present the proposal to a new land and development advisory committee, which will replace the existing Land and Building Advisory Committee, to assess the project's economic value and advise the proponent if it needed to refine the proposal to increase its public benefit. The committee will be a reshuffled version of the existing committee, with representatives from the medical, tourism and environmental and heritage conservation sectors and existing representatives in the construction and real estate trades. There are no lawmakers on the existing committee and none will be invited to become members of the new one. Town Planning Board member Ng Cho-nam said the office would assist foreign investors unfamiliar with planning procedures, but he was concerned whether the office would exert pressure on departments responsible for environmental and transport assessments. 'It is important that the office should not give preferential treatment to certain projects,' Dr Ng said. 'Otherwise, departmental officers may feel pressure not to deviate from its 'endorsement'.' Democratic Party legislator Lee Wing-tat said the committee should involve lawmakers and more green groups, who have been most critical of private developments, such as a spa resort in Sham Chung and a logistics park on Lantau. 'The intention to set up the office might be good, but if these groups are excluded, it is easy to think that the committee is biased towards developers,' he said. Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan urged the government to invite lawmakers, who she said were more sensitive to social expectations.