RESIDENTS will no longer be kept in the dark about planning applications that affect their homes under a new law being formulated by the Government. Town Planning Board member Nicholas Brooke revealed the legislation would give a right of access to information for all those affected by any planning application before it was approved. But the planning of new developments may be slowed by up to nine months as a result. The new measure comes in the wake of repeated rows in recent years over Hong Kong's ''secretive'' planning process, and a recent high-profile protest in Wan Chai by angry residents unable to discover if their homes would be demolished to make way for a new hotel complex. The legislator who led that protest welcomed the proposed law, but she also warned that it did not go far enough. Independent Christine Loh Kung-wai said any interested member of the public should have access to planning information. A spokesman for the Lands and Works Department said that a white paper on the new planning ordinance would be put to the Executive Council later this year, but he refused to comment on its contents. Mr Brooke did confirm that under the new ordinance people affected by any planning application considered by the Town Planning Board would be formally notified by the Government. They would also be able to ask the applicant, or related planning departments, to provide details of the plan. Under the existing law, any planning application received by the Government is strictly confidential, and the Town Planning Board, an independent statutory body, decides in secret whether to approve the application. That means occupants or even owners of affected sites are left in ignorance of the plan unless they are the applicant. They can only discover details of the plan if it is gazetted after the board's approval. The new legislation would plug the present loopholes. ''The notice would alert those being affected and they would be able to find out what would happen to them,'' Mr Brooke said. But one price to pay for allowing the public to register their concern will be to lengthen the planning process. Mr Brooke claimed some developers believed it could take up to an extra nine months to get approval for a scheme. ''This is a two-edged process - we've got to speed up planning and involve more public participation,'' he said. ''Delay means more cost, and more cost means higher prices to the end-users. But under the new legislation, we will be able, to a large extent, to cover the concern of the public.'' Miss Loh said the access to information offered to the public under the new law was ''too narrow''. ''It's difficult to define who is likely to be affected,'' she said. ''The plan could affect the whole of Hong Kong.'' Miss Loh suggested that anyone who was interested in a plan should be able to have access to the information. ''There's no reason to keep the plan closed or restrict access to some only,'' she said. Residents living at 214-224 Queen's Road East in Wan Chai, confused by plans for the Hopewell Holdings Mega Hotel Tower development, said the Government should introduce the new law as soon as possible. They feared Hopewell might move to develop a site near the new complex that included their homes. The site was listed as open space, meaning no development should be allowed on it. But Hopewell has offered to surrender other plots of land in exchange for expanding the hotel project on the site. Resident Leung Chi-ping said that the uncertainty surrounding the outcome stopped those living there from spending money on renovating their homes. ''Both the Government and Hopewell refused to tell us the details of the plan, so it is just like gambling,'' Ms Leung said. ''If the law had been introduced, our confusion could have been eased.''