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Speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Second Reading of the Buildings (Amendment) Bill 2003 in the Legislative Council

Following is a speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Second Reading of the Buildings (Amendment) Bill 2003 in the Legislative Council today (April 30):

Madam President,

I move the second reading of the Buildings (Amendment) Bill 2003. The purposes of the Bill are to rationalise the building control regime, strengthen safety requirements of buildings, facilitate law enforcement, and improve service to the public.

Rationalising the building control regime

The most important proposal in the Bill is the introduction of a control regime for minor works. The existing control regime under the Buildings Ordinance applies to all private building works with few exemptions. Even minor building works have to comply fully with all the provisions for building works under the Buildings Ordinance.

We consider that the degree of control on different kinds of building works should be commensurate with their nature, scale, complexity and the risk involved. We therefore propose to introduce a new category of relatively simple and small-scale building works, i.e. "minor works", which covers internal staircases, small light weight canopies and most signboards. To tie in with the new control regime, a new category of registered contractors, namely, registered minor works contractors, will be introduced. The qualification and experience requirements for registered minor works contractors will depend on the nature of the minor works.

The control regime for minor works will save time and money for building owners as well as the construction industry. We believe that the proposed system will facilitate building owners' compliance with the law when they carry out minor works and at the same time ensure the standards of works for better public safety.

Furthermore, in line with the principle that a control regime should be commensurate with the matters under its purview, we propose to increase the number of persons with relevant expertise in the Registration Committees to consider applications for registration from different categories of specialist contractors. Similarly, we propose to provide for the registration of geotechnical engineers, and for registered geotechnical engineers to be appointed to undertake the investigation, design and supervision of geotechnical works and be statutorily responsible for their works.

Strengthening safety requirements

Another proposal in the Bill is to upgrade the safety standards of buildings. At present, there is no statutory requirement that emergency vehicular access should be provided for building developments. In view of the importance of such access, we propose to require the provision of emergency vehicular access with specific design and construction standards to all new buildings, and to empower the Building Authority to issue orders to repair and maintain existing and new emergency vehicular access. Exemption will be given in special cases, for example, when the construction of emergency vehicular access is not feasible because of the topography of the location of the building.

Facilitating law enforcement

Effective law enforcement is an essential element in building safety. In this regard, the Bill sets out several proposals.

First, under the existing Buildings Ordinance, we sometimes encounter difficulties in identifying the owners responsible for unauthorised building works, or have to pursue the matter with the new owner when there is a change of ownership. To facilitate law enforcement, we propose to clearly specify the person responsible for the removal of unauthorised building works.

Second, to further encourage owners to remove unauthorised building works voluntarily, we propose to empower the Building Authority to issue a warning notice on unauthorised building works and to register the notice with the Land Registry. The Building Authority may lift the registration when contraventions referred to in the warning notice have been rectified. The proposal will have the added advantage of providing protection to prospective property buyers, who may find out whether there are any unauthorised building works in the relevant premises through a land search at the Land Registry.

Third, we propose to amend the Buildings Ordinance to increase the maximum fines for serious offences involving substandard or dangerous building works by four to six times their current levels, so as to increase the deterrent effect.

Fourth, sometimes the owners' corporation of a building may have difficulty in complying with the orders served by the Building Aurhtority when individual owners refuse to cooperate. We therefore propose that owners who obstruct their owners' corporation in complying with the statutory orders for repair works and removal of unauthorised buildings or unauthorised building works in the common parts of the building may be prosecuted. This amendment will facilitate owners' corporations' compliance with statutory orders.

Improving service

We of course have not forgotten the need to improve our service. To facilitate the work of building professionals, we propose to provide an efficient service for the inspection and copying of building plans and documents on a cost- recovery basis. We also propose to extend the registration and renewal period for authorised persons, so hoping, on the one hand, to achieve user friendliness, and, on the other, to ensure continued professional competence.

Conclusion

Madam President, the Buildings (Amendment) Bill aims to facilitate good design and safe construction of buildings, to update the legislation to better suit present day circumstances, and to bring about a safer, healthier and more congenial environment. It will also be conducive to the sustainable development of Hong Kong in the long run. I hope Members would support the Bill to facilitate its passage as soon as possible.

Thank you, Madam President.

End/Wednesday, April 30, 2003

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