The British Legacy


Hong Kong has a comprehensive land use planning system which it inherited from the era of British rule and which continues in modified form to date. It is not a carbon copy of British planning legislation but a system adapted to the context and priorities of the colony, in some ways perhaps more akin to early post-World War II British practice than more recent styles of UK planning. Whereas British planning may be seen as a response to Victorian slums and interwar suburban sprawl, for Hong Kong the overriding priority has been to cope with and facilitate rapid economic and demographic growth within a topographically and environmentally constrained territory.

There are up to five tiers of plans or strategies, of which particular importance attaches to Sub-regional Development Strategies and Statutory Outline Zoning Plans and Development Permission Area Plans (Chiu 2008; Planning Department 1995); the former allocates sites for housing and the latter determines development density and form and associated public land uses including roads. Planning is managed centrally through a Town Planning Board whose membership is appointed from predominantly government, business and professional communi- ties—elected local government does not play a dominant role as in the UK. There are overarching HK Planning Standards and Guidelines which have to apply to all developments, analogous to UK National Planning Policy statements and practice guidance. Whilst the terminology of zoning and physical standards sounds superficially more like a US-style zoning system than a UK-style discretionary development control system, the contextual reality of (a) constrained territory, (b) consequent predominant intense high-rise form, and (c) public ownership of all freehold and all raw land supply, makes for a completely different system in practice. Another feature of HK planning, reflected particularly in the top tier Territorial Development Strategy, is the close linkage with infrastructure planning; any new residential development must be connected to the transit system.

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