Planning board gets tough against raising plot ratios
9 April 2008
South China Morning Post
Concerns that Hong Kong Island is becoming overdeveloped have prompted the Town Planning Board to be stricter about developers raising plot ratios by converting residential sites on Hong Kong Island into commercial uses.
The maximum development density of sites on the island is dictated by the Building Ordinance, which puts a ceiling on the gross floor area that may be developed on a residential site of 10 times the size of the site, or a "plot ratio".
Commercial sites have a plot ratio of 15 on the island, and for years many owners of residential sites have applied to develop commercial projects on the sites in order to benefit from the increased density.
But the Town Planning Board, which must approve applications to convert land use under Section 16 of the ordinance, has tightened the approval process over the past six months to a plot ratio of 12 because of fears that the island was becoming over-developed.
In the past, approvals were typically granted to developers to convert residential sites and develop hotel or office projects with a development plot ratio of 15. For example, Wang On Group obtained an approval to develop a 31-storey hotel on a residential site at Davis Street in Kennedy Town with a plot ratio of 15 in 2005.
But last year, Emperor International applied to redevelop May King House at Des Voeux Road West in Kennedy Town into a hotel with a plot ratio of 15 and the Town Planning Board rejected the application due to concerns over the high density. The developer finally won approval from the board after it decided to build a 34-storey hotel with a plot ratio of 12 at the end of last year.
In another case, an application by Culture Homes for the plot ratio on its Second Street hotel development in Sai Ying Pun to be raised to 15 was twice rejected by the board until it cut the application to a plot ratio of 12.
A town planner in the Planning Department said the government intended to avoid over-development.
"We always review our policy," she said. "They have a maximum plot ratio of 10 to develop a residential project. There's no reason for them to increase the plot ratio to 15 by converting the site for commercial use."
Alnwick Chan Chi-hing, an executive director at Knight Frank, was surprised to learn of the tougher approach taken by the planning board, since this appeared to be at odds with the government's policy of encouraging developers to build hotels.
The government recently put 10 hotel sites into the land application list to encourage developers to buy and build hotel projects.
Mr Chan said most of the hotels sites on the land application list were located in suburban areas, which failed to meet a market need for more centrally-located hotels. He expected the developers would shun the sites.
"The board's new policy will now limit the new supply of hotels, which is in conflict with government policy," he said.
But Kim Chan Kim-on, a vice-president of Hong Kong Institute of Planners, disputed concerns that hotel projects might lose their appeal to developers and he welcomed the move to prevent over-development of the core island area.