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Hong Kong developers laughing all the way to the bank with green scheme

Talk about setting the fox to guard the henhouse. Under the guise of urban and environmental improvement, developers have been able to win concessions of up to 10 per cent of gross floor area in their projects without paying a premium if they satisfy certain “green” requirements or merely claim to do so.

And who certifies their green credentials? The BEAM Society, part of the Green Building Council, enjoys complete discretion and total unaccountability when it comes to certifying builders under its BEAM Plus assessment scheme.

It gets worse. Many of the society’s directors have close business ties to the property and construction sectors. An internal probe, the results of which the society has refused to disclose, looked in 2013 into complaints about the lack of fairness, transparency and accountability in the way the scheme was administered.

Since its inception in 2011, 260 development projects have been granted the exemption under the BEAM scheme. You can imagine how much money developers save – or premiums lost to the government coffers and therefore taxpayers – with those 10 per cent concessions.

But what do developers do that is so great to deserve massive paybacks? Apparently, more efficient energy use, better site ventilation and indoor air quality, less water consumption and enhanced waste management. Shouldn’t developers be doing all those things already? Why do taxpayers have to subsidise them? But the scheme already represents some regulatory restraints.

Before its introduction, developers could claim extra gross floor area without preset limits by adding amenities and green features. The Buildings Department and Development Bureau seem perfectly fine with the scheme. No doubt lucrative postretirement jobs await quite a few of their officials. The ICAC has recommended turning the assessment society into a statutory body to make it accountable. That is a start and would require drawing up a bill to pass through the legislature. It’s probably the best we could do in Hong Kong.

A more sensible solution would be to make green standards mandatory. But given the developers’ lobbying power, there is a snowball chance in hell for that.

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