Streamlining procedures, expediting land production
Land and housing are matters that are important and imperative for the betterment of our economy and people's livelihood. Since taking office over a year ago, the current-term Government has been endeavouring to provide more land and housing by way of enhancing quantity, speed, efficiency and quality. A focus of our efforts is to identify abundant land supply, thereby meeting housing needs of the people as well as the needs of industrial and commercial activities. This is one important deliverable of the "Steering Committee on Land and Housing Supply" under my charge.
The Government has already secured a land supply of around 7,300 hectares for the future, which has exceeded the anticipated demand of 6,200 hectares of land between 2019 and 2048 as estimated in the report of Hong Kong 2030+. The supply of "developable land" in the coming ten years would reach about 3,300 hectares, half of which would come from the strategic growth areas of Northern Metropolis and the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands.
Quantity aside, it is essential that we increase the speed of land supply. For some time, land supply was slackened due to various restrictions, such as statutory and administrative procedures that may be obsolete or excessive; and manpower shortage in the construction industry. We have recently seen breakthroughs in these two areas, which are expected to speed up the supply of land and housing substantially.
Land production involves different statutory procedures. Such procedures are intended to uphold the integrity and professionalism of the development process, and at the same time enable the views of affected parties or interested members of the public to be duly considered and adopted as appropriate. That being said, going through the procedures could take time, and it could be disproportionate to the scope of the development project. For example, plan-making under the Town Planning Ordinance, or the gazettal procedures of large-scale roadworks or railway development projects under the respective ordinances, could take 17 months or longer – factoring in the time in handling representations and comments under the statutory procedures – and they require a large amount of time and resources. To address rising expectations of the community for t land supply, while maintaining public participation, we need to streamline the statutory procedures, remove repetitive procedures of a similar nature, and rationalise obsolete arrangements, with a view to compressing the time required for land production.
Two weeks ago, the Legislative Council ("LegCo") passed the Development (Town Planning, Lands and Works) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2022. The Bill seeks to amend six major ordinances to streamline the statutory procedures for town planning, land resumption, reclamation, roadworks and railway development. It has also proposed an array of measures to expedite the development process, for example, streamlining the plan-making procedures under the Town Planning Ordinance.
The amended ordinances will come into effect on 1 September this year, and would benefit different development projects including the Northern Metropolis and the Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands. Past projects of a similar scale often took more than a decade from project initiation to the production of the first batch of developable land. With the streamlined procedures, the time required could be compressed to seven years. As for turning primitive land to a spade-ready site for an average public housing project, the time required could be shortened from at least six years to around four years.
We thank LegCo Members for their careful examination of the Bill in the past six months, and for providing various constructive suggestions to refine the Bill. Together we strive to respond to the community's expectations for speedier land supply.
Besides streamlining statutory processes, we have also enhanced the relevant administrative procedures and internal coordination. The Development Bureau ("DEVB") has set up a Steering Group to holistically review the procedures involved in various aspects, as well as align and rationalise the standards and definitions in development approval processes adopted by relevant departments. So far, streamlining measures relating to 11 aspects have been rolled out, including those on building height restrictions, landscape requirements, design and disposition clauses under lease, site coverage restrictions, and gross floor area/plot ratio restrictions. While reducing repetitive handling of matters, the measures have also enhanced the transparency and certainty of the approval process.
On top of streamlining procedures and coordination, we also need to enhance the productivity of Hong Kong's construction industry. This includes stepping up the application of advanced construction techniques and innovative technologies, and at the same time increasing the overall manpower supply, so as to ensure that the land we identified could be created as early as possible for the benefit of the community.
On the application of advanced technologies, the Government has injected a total of $2.2 billion into the Construction Innovation and Technology Fund. DEVB has also set up a cross-departmental steering committee to co-ordinate the development of high productivity construction methods such as Modular Integrated Construction ("MiC"), to promote the use of innovative technologies and raise productivity. I have also earmarked $60 million in the Budget this year to conduct respective studies on establishing the Building Testing and Research Institute as well as the construction of the first advanced construction industry building. Apart from supporting the construction industry in enhancing research and development as well as application of new construction technologies, the initiatives, as they materialise, would also provide the space for operators to set up steel reinforcement bar prefabrication yards and processing sites for MiC to enhance speed and safety in construction.
On manpower supply, we are joining hands with the industry in launching a promotion campaign to publicise the professional image and development opportunities of the sector so as to attract new blood. We also allocated $1 billion to the Construction Industry Council ("CIC") last year for funding more manpower training and enhancing workers' skills.
It is difficult to meet the manpower demand of the sector in a short period of time by merely strengthening local training, particularly in view of the many different trades in construction. According to the manpower forecast report published by CIC earlier this year, the manpower shortfall will rise to over 40 000 in 2027. We have thus launched the Labour Importation Scheme for the Construction Sector as a supplementary measure. Opened for applications from last Monday (July 17), the Scheme has a quota ceiling of 12 000 – the number has duly taken into account the need to safeguard employment opportunities and wages of local workers on the one hand, and on the other prevent Hong Kong's development from being severely constrained due to insufficient manpower.
Our efforts to identify and increase land supply, streamline statutory procedures, enhance coordination of administrative processes, apply advanced technologies and increase manpower supply, all point to the same goal – our commitment to adopt a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach to expedite land and housing production. We are determined to create the necessary capacity and build the momentum for the development of Hong Kong in the long run.
July 23, 2023