New teams to fast-track lease changes, land-use violations

Top News | Jane Cheung 4 Apr 2018

An 80-member special team will be set up to vet and speed up applications from developers over changing land leases, says the director of lands.

Thomas Chan Chung-ching said the team will hopefully be formed this financial year, along with an action team of 60 officers that will tackle serious violations of land use, such as illegal occupation of government land.

In an RTHK interview yesterday, he said the vetting team will deal with projects by private developers involving large-scale land exchange or the amendment of land leases.

The aim is to centralize the process and speed up procedures for freeing land.

All cases involving more than 500 residential units, or more than 10,000 square meters of commercial or industrial land, will come under the purview of the vetting team.

Chan said it is expected to handle about 100 cases involving 60,000 residential flats and three million sq m of office area.

The proposal to set up the action team came after the Ombudsman's criticism of the department last year for lax enforcement action in the New Territories.

Chan said the action team will also target structures that are subdivided into units to be rented out as residential homes - ideally before the units are occupied.

He said the New Territories task force, which was established in 2007 to tackle the accumulated cases of inappropriate land use in the region, has successfully handled most cases.

There are 1,000 to 2,000 cases left incomplete and the department is set to tackle all of them within two years, he said.

A surveyor and former lawmaker for the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, Edward Yiu Chung-yim, said he welcomed the department's extra manpower allocation.

He said the work on the modifications of land leases and land exchange was complicated and massive in size. However, he said having extra staff might not speed up the supply of housing, as there is another major obstacle.

Yiu said the procedures are often slowed down because the government and developers fail to agree on the premium payments.

"Residential buildings of over 500 flats have considerable values - the parties may negotiate the premium payment for years before moving on to other procedures," he said.

To further facilitate housing supply, Yiu said the department should streamline land use policies with related government branches.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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