Further Comments on Urban Renewal Authority Bill

 

Further Comments on Urban Renewal



Authority Bill

Introduction

  1. The Hong Kong Bar Association [the Bar] first commented on this
    Bill in its paper of 1st December 1999 and attended a
    meeting of the Bills Committee to present that paper on 14th
    April 2000. That paper raised concerns as to inordinately wide purposes
    clause and the general, non-urban renewal power proposed for the
    URA; the prospect of blight and the absence of compensation for
    blight; inconsistent compensation provisions under the various land
    acquisition and resumption statutes, of which the URA Ordinance
    will be one; the removal of compulsory negotiation prior to seeking
    resumption (cf. the Land Resumption Ordinance, Cap. 124) and various
    transitional provisions and bylaws.
  2. There having been further explanations given by Government, some
    committee stage amendments proposed (including a statutory Appeal
    Board, interposed between the proposal of a development project
    and the decision of SPEL under s.21 by ss.23A and
    23B) and certain changes proposed to the scale of compensation,
    the Bar was asked on 28th February if it wished to comment
    further.
  3. The Bar’s comments below are divided into two: outstanding matters
    and the new proposals.
  4. Outstanding matters



    a. Proposes and powers of the URA; CE’s power
    to direct the URA

  5. The Bar has seen no amendments to remedy either the non-specific,
    non-urban renewal purpose in s.5(f) of the Bill or the unduly
    broad and poorly-drafted power in s.6(1), commented on in
    Part A of our first paper.
  6. We have seen no justification for either of these provisions as
    they stand. They both appear to be contrary to principle (b)
    stated by the Bills Committee in para. 9 of its latest Report. They
    allow the URA to acquire land other than for the s.6(1) purpose.
    The power granted to the Chief Executive by s.5(f) to direct
    the URA as he may wish is not in any way restricted by the undertaking
    given by SPEL to LegCo on 26th June 2000. Simply stating
    that any such order must be laid on the Table, as with all other
    subsidiary legislation, takes the matter no further.
  7. The Bar continues to believe and recommends that s.5(f)
    be removed from the Bill and that s.5 and s.6(1) be
    amended to make them congruent and restricted to the specific urban
    renewal purposes of the URA set out in the second limb of s.6(1).



  8. b. Resumption and compensation; blight.

  9. The Bar regrets that the Government does not intend to take this
    opportunity to make consistent the provisions and procedures for
    compulsory acquisition of land and for compensation under the various
    statutes dealing with the matter.
  10. It is clear (see paras. 41-43 of the latest Report of the Bills
    Committee) that Government and Bills Committee members recognise
    the probability of blight as a result of the URA pursuant
    to the Bill, as pointed out in part B of the Bar’s first paper. It
    is regrettable that Government has chosen not to recognise this
    deprivation of property rights (in terms of value) by introducing
    a right to compensation and a procedure for its recovery. SPEL’s
    statement to LegCo on 26 June 2000 that the Government "fully
    agrees" with the principle of protecting the interests of owners
    is not borne out by this decision.


  11. c. Transitional arrangements and by laws

  12. The Bar’s concerns as to transitional arrangements set out in para.
    23 of section C of our first paper have still not been addressed.
    The proposed arrangements remain the same; the accrued rights of
    persons soon to be, or currently negotiating acquisitions with the
    LDC are to be taken away, apparently for reasons of expediency,
    and the new URO procedure applied. This remains prima facie
    wrong. The Bar maintains the concerns and recommendation
    to delete s.30(8) set out in paras. 23 and 25(a) respectively
    of our first paper.
  13. Similarly, the Bar maintains its concerns as to by-laws and recommendation
    to amend s.29(2) in paras. 24 and 25(b) of our first
    paper.
  14. New Proposals



    d. Compensation formula

  15. The bulk of the material recently provided concerns the levels
    of compensation to be paid upon acquisition by URA in default of
    a reference to the Lands Tribunal to determine compensation. The
    Bar notes that by use of the "fair value" plus allowances,
    Government quietly continues to deny any "development"
    or "hope" value to existing owners of property in a development
    area. This feature is more acute given that URA – induced blight
    may well already have depressed the "fair value" of their
    property to be paid as compensation; blight for which there is no
    right to compensation.


  16. e. Appeal Board

  17. The constitution of the newly-proposed Appeal Board (para. 46
    of the latest Bill Committee report and proposed ss.23A and
    23B of the Bill) seems rather odd to the Bar. Once again,
    these will be persons appointed by and at the pleasure of the Chief
    Executive to question the decision of SPEL, another appointee of
    the Chief Executive. There is no requirement for members to have
    any qualifications or experience. Notably, there is also no requirement
    for members to declare any interest they may have on nomination
    to an appeal board, which has the effect of rendering ss.23(12)
    rather empty.
  18. The procedural time limits in s.23B are exceedingly short
    for the preparation of a properly-drafted objection and to obtain
    and instruct appropriate representation especially given that the
    statute allows SPEL to sit on a proposal for years before approval.
    The Bar therefore recommends that these procedural provisions
    be revisited, and the time limits extended; and that the Appeal
    Board should be given an express discretionary power to extend time
    for the taking of any step or the doing of any act in the proceedings.

 

Dated 7th March 2001

Hong Kong Bar Association