測量師時代 SURVEYORS TIMES

Issue: 2012.02

Speeding up the Implementation of City Planning

Outline Zoning Plans (OZP), Development Permission Area Plans (DPA Plans) and Development Scheme Plans (DSP) are the blueprints of how the government thinks best in the layout and the land uses in the city. They give us a master layout of the “perfect city” with optimal use of plots of land, aiming at achieving a better living environment and/ or economic synergy. With these well planned schemes the question is the way it could be changed from paper to the real thing! It is often the most frustrating experience to witness those good plans have never reached their expected end.

It is always easier to faithfully execute a brand new zoning plan for a plot of undeveloped land, as witnessed by the easy availability of amenities and facilities in satellite towns like Shatin and Tseung Kwan O. Filling empty plots according to intended plans is a much simpler process than changing established ones, as there would be a lot less confrontation gainst news plans. In stark contrast, to change the use of a developed area faces a lot more challenges, and even when the government has thoughtfully planned for more public facilities to a better life, these well-intended demarcations fall on deaf ears as there are not enough incentives for private owners to take heed.

Most of the developed land in the urban area of Hong Kong is under the post-70s OZPs and since their existence there were numerous reviews and changes in land uses followed by changes in social, environment, and economic conditions. The changed land uses shown on the plans do not have an execution dead-line. Lot owners concerned would normally adopt a wait-and-see attitude. They may not be willing to tear down a building still yielding rent and build another which involves paying a land premium for change in land use and also exposing to economic risk. If the buildings are of strata title, the above complications are compounded and a consensus may take a long time to get reached, during which the economic conditions may change drastically.

On the other hand, recent measures in optimizing the use of industrial land, aka revitalizing industrial buildings, may signify a change in government’s long standing philosophy in letting market forces a free reign. Before its implementation in 2010, obsolete industrial buildings which show minimal care have stood in areas of which the land use had been changed for more than a decade, creating not only disharmony among latest developments, but also incurring great opportunity costs for the whole society. Despite the huge surplus in industrial space there has been very little compliance from the private sector to adhere to planning and changes. The Development Bureau recently introduced a package of measures to facilitate redevelopment and wholesale conversion of existing industrial buildings. Under the new measures, more incentives are granted to owners of industrial buildings in non-industrial zones for wholesale conversion. Whilst it may be still a little too early to evaluate the effect of these incentives, when comparing with the situation in the past two decades, the momentum to adapt to planning changes is definitely gaining speed.

It is my humble opinion that more can be done to accelerate this process. For example relaxing requirements to the conversion of those old industrial buildings, including the ratio of parking and loading bays common facilities, open space, etc. to a more attainable standard. The government’s aim in implementing this plan is, after all, to make these transitions possible. Moreover, some more initiatives from government to upgrade and improve the public infrastructures, the road network and the general environment of the industrial areas would definitely help the pace of conversion.

I am happy to see the government taking the initiative to facilitate implementation of its master plan for the optimum use of the territory’s very limited land resources. Let’s applaud for its brave first step and hope for more of these similar actions to prevent the zoning plans from becoming only ink blots on paper!

 

 

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