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"Fostering a Better Building Care Culture" delivered by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, at the Joint Conference on Building Development & Practice in the 21st Century (English only)

Following is the opening address - "Fostering a Better Building Care Culture" delivered today (October 18) by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, at the Joint Conference on Building Development & Practice in the 21st Century (English only):

Mr Chan, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to join you all today at this joint conference. I am encouraged by the very forward-looking theme of building development and practice in the 21st century. I do not profess to be able to offer too much insight into what changes there might be in building materials and building designs in the remaining 90-plus years of the century. However, I believe that buildings of all ages can benefit from proper care. The rehabilitation of buildings improves the built environment and reduces the need for redevelopment. It is also in line with the Government's policy of sustainable development. I would, therefore, like to share with you some of my thoughts on this subject.

Challenges

Thanks to the ingenuity of the building industry, we have been able to accommodate a large number of people in a very small area. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine how one could have coped in a place like Hong Kong without multi-storey buildings. Ensuring their safety while providing the increasingly sophisticated amenities is no small feat, and is a good testament to the innovation of our building professionals. In this regard, multi-storey buildings present both challenges and opportunities for the industry. I would, therefore, encourage all involved to be on a constant lookout for ways to promote easy aftercare that can keep pace with new building materials and evolving building technologies.

While the industry plays an important part in facilitating building care, owners have the ultimate responsibility for properly maintaining their buildings. The multiple ownership pattern of most of our multi-storey buildings presents a challenge here. While many owners do pay attention to maintaining their own units, some are negligent of their responsibility to take good care of the common areas of their buildings. This has led to serious problems in many buildings, especially those with no owners' corporations or which are not serviced by management companies. These problems include dilapidation of buildings, the prevalence of unauthorized building works, ill-maintained drainage systems, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, to name but a few examples.

Existing Efforts

To address these problems, Government has developed a number of responses. For instance, the Home Affairs Department provides assistance to building owners in the formation of owners' corporations. The Buildings Department takes enforcement action against non-compliance with the provisions of the Buildings Ordinance. In the past few years, the department has significantly stepped up its work in this regard. The number of statutory orders issued to building owners to rectify building defects and remove unauthorised building works increased more than ten-fold from 1998 to 2002. In addition, the department has launched large-scale enforcement or improvement programmes. It also runs publicity campaigns as well as a loan scheme for building safety. Separately, we have set up the Urban Renewal Authority to renew our old urban districts.

However, our work has had limited success. The SARS outbreak earlier this year has all too vividly focused attention on the widespread building neglect problem.

Achieving Better Building Care

To solve the problem of building dilapidation and promote building safety, we need to build upon and strengthen our current efforts. In addition, we need to foster a better building care culture within the community. This is the key to a sustainable solution to the building neglect problem.

Our initial view is that integrating building management with maintenance should play an important part in the long-term solution. This approach requires matching owners' needs with services provided by the building management sector, and is premised upon three basic principles:

(1) First, owners have the ultimate responsibility for properly maintaining their buildings.

(2) Second, sound building management is the prerequisite for proper maintenance.

(3) Third, the services should best be provided by the building management and other relevant professionals.

Of these three principles, the most obvious may actually prove to be the most difficult. As a general concept, that owners should be responsible for their buildings appears to be almost a tautology. However, difficulties arise when it comes down to discharging the responsibilities in practice, including not least accepting the financial commitment. Many owners are reluctant to face up to such responsibilities. Bringing these owners on board would require a significant increase in overall community awareness and support.

The second principle underlines the importance of good building management to sound building maintenance. We believe that sustained efforts in building management leads to regular maintenance, which in turn reduces the need for and frequency of costly rectification works, thus translating into long-term cost savings for the owners. It also contributes towards preserving the property value for the owners.

The third principle, the provision of professional services takes account of the complexity of modern building management and maintenance. We see plenty of opportunities for building management companies to provide user-friendly one-stop services to owners, ranging from building-related legal advice to day-to-day management to project supervision that meet the various needs of different owners and different buildings. For example, the industry can achieve economies of scale and optimise operating costs by offering "bulk purchase" arrangement for different blocks on the same street or in the immediate vicinity joining the same management and maintenance scheme. By pulling together all the necessary expertise, the industry can provide quality and efficient service to building owners in a hassle-free manner.

Way Forward

These are just some of our initial thoughts for bringing building owners and the industry together to achieve a better living environment for all. Obviously, they require further discussion within the community before they can be taken forward. The adoption of any proposal to resolve the problem of building care and its successful implementation hinges upon the cooperation and commitment of all concerned - the owners, the industry and the community at large. To this end, we will soon carry out a public consultation exercise to gauge the views of various parties and facilitate a constructive public debate on the issues involved.

I look forward to listening to the views of the community, including the building professionals who are with us today, on this important subject.

Thank you.

Ends/Saturday, October 18, 2003

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