Let’s take another look at land use planning and regulation
In the world of “mega”, “smart” and “liveable” cities much is written about innovation and technology and the need for new and creative drivers to revitalise economic growth. However, many of those excited by their visions for the future overlook the “legacy” ecosystems and regulatory structures which form the platform on which their brave new world has to take root. These legacy systems
include not only long established legislative frameworks with their embedded guidelines, administrative systems and practice notes. They also include associated civil service and corporate mindsets, cultures and comfort zones which have developed over many years of familiar decision making parameters and safe, well understood methods of implementation and delivery.
Hong Kong’s well-regulated governance policies and delivery mechanisms have stood it in good stead over the years, providing certainty and ensuring a generally level playing field. However, more recently, innovative business models and increasingly rapid technological changes have found many of our regulations a barrier rather than a benefit and as such inflexible and unwelcoming. This in turn
has constrained the speed of local innovation, the adoption of some new technologies and a general feeling that Hong Kong is losing its cutting edge while other cities and countries are moving ahead.
Clearly, open and trustworthy regulation in areas impacting medical standards, food security and other such life and death livelihood issues have to be maintained but even these need regular review and update to ensure that they remain relevant and recognise changes dictated by new knowledge and experience. Equally we need to put in place new standard requirements in the areas of environmental performance and to ensure a sustainable future.
It seems we need new “frameworks” to ensure a more liveable city and a better quality of life for our residents but, within these frameworks, a more flexible, performance related, regulatory regime which will encourage innovation and the introduction of meaningful new technologies. The city needs to regularly regenerate itself to enable it to remain relevant and attractive to highly qualified, much needed talent and to improve living conditions for all. It is therefore essential that legislative and regulatory frameworks keep up with the times.
A good start in Hong Kong would be to carry out regulatory impact assessments of all new and existing legislation to ensure it is clear, transparent, continues to be valid and delivers on its stated objectives. All legislation also needs to be consistent with all existing policies, institutional arrangements and current regulations and assessed from the perspective of its incremental impact on business or society – a reluctance to take into consideration associated or incremental impacts results in flawed assessment outcomes.
Clarity and provisions which are consistent with current conditions should be the drivers so that the community understands the objectives and government can commit to pursuing compliance. Allowing old policies or administrative approaches to overrun their sell-by dates has led to much of the criticism currently facing the Lands, Planning, Buildings and Fire Services Departments.
Regulatory controls also need to be reviewed in the light of new and anticipated developments in the fields of innovation and technology – subject only to genuine ethical and public safety concerns, Government should not be standing in the way of progress. We need a balance between enabling new discoveries and protecting local consumers.
From my own experience, it has become apparent that there is a requirement for an urgent review not only of the regulatory arrangements and frameworks which govern all aspects of land use planning, land tenure and administration and all aspects of current building regulations but also their impact on, and integration with, the many other institutional arrangements and regulations.
We also need to review our business frameworks and respond pragmatically to the community’s wish to take advantage of new technologies. While privacy and safety are both important, many new technology driven business solutions offer significant potential commercial and social applications. Hong Kong needs to be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities while ensuring our “rule of law” remains respected and fit for purpose but also up-to-date and future friendly.
Such a regulatory review needs to include not only ordinances, but also practice notes and administrative guidelines. It is understood that it might take several years to complete and may need to tap the resources of private sector consultants; however if no action is taken, the situation can only get worse.
Given that 2017 was another year of high government revenues, 2018 would be an excellent year to start the process, establish a high level, adequately resourced Regulatory Review Office and take the first steps to ensuring that Hong Kong maintains its reputation as an exciting, efficient, forward looking and adaptable city.
Margaret Brooke is chief executive officer of Professional Property Services