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Speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council Budget Debate

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council Budget Debate today (April 9):

President,

At last week's Budget Debate, Members expressed concern over the prevailing high levels of unemployment in Hong Kong, and in particular that in the construction industry. The Hon Wong Sing-chi has proposed that the Government should carry out more building maintenance works to alleviate the problem of unemployment. I wish to respond on this subject.

Building Management and Maintenance

Proper management and timely maintenance of buildings will not only improve the image of our city, but, more importantly, also ensure that buildings are structurally safe and meet fire safety and health standards. In fact, demolition and redevelopment alone cannot catch up with the pace of urban decay. In addition, not all old buildings have to be pulled down; many may be renovated and restored, thus prolonging their useful life.

One of my major tasks in the next few years is to promote building management and to encourage property owners to focus attention on building maintenance and safety. We will consider how best to make property owners accept the importance of timely maintenance of their buildings. We will also initiate discussions with relevant professional bodies with a view to fostering the development of one-stop services in the area of building management and maintenance. Apart from providing security, cleansing and maintenance services, these bodies may also assist owners in the setting up of owners' corporations, provide advice on maintenance and legal matters, thus meeting the objective of one-stop services. In addition to enhancing the quality of buildings, this will also foster the development of the building management and maintenance industry.

The Buildings Department, in collaboration with six other Government departments, has embarked on a pilot Coordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme (CMBS), with a view to fostering partnership with private building owners, providing support in building maintenance and promoting good building management. Phase One of the scheme commenced in late 2000. Of the 150 target buildings covered, 143 have works undertaken on them. Among these, 97 have completed the necessary repair works, with more than 7,000 unauthorized building works (UBW) removed. Twenty-two out of 40 buildings which did not previously have an Owner's Corporation (OC) have now formed OC. Under Phase Two, another 200 buildings were selected for implementation in late 2001. Among them, repair works have been undertaken on 81 buildings and 10 buildings have repair works already completed. The above has demonstrated that the scheme is effective in promoting building maintenance and good building management. The Buildings Department is now extending the scheme to cover more buildings.

Following extensive public consultation, the Government announced in April 2001 a comprehensive strategy for building safety and timely maintenance. The Buildings Department's target is to remove 150 000 to 300 000 UBWs in five to seven years and will first focus its effort on UBWs posing a threat to life and limb or imminent danger and new UBWs. At the same time, it will conduct blitz operations to remove at one go hundreds of UBWs, mainly on external walls of buildings. Such blitz operations are effective in enabling building owners to comply with the removal orders. During the period 2000-2002, some 400, 1,500 and 1,700 target buildings have been selected for blitz operations.

In future, we will continue to work closely with the Home Affairs Bureau to impress upon building owners the importance of timely maintenance through education and publicity, and to provide building owners with appropriate assistance, including the Building Safety Loan Scheme. We set up the $700 million loan fund in July 2001. Up to March 2003, the scheme has provided $132 million of loans to building owners. We will continue to strengthen various publicity measures to promote the use of the loan fund by building owners to improve building safety and maintenance. Separately, we will introduce the Buildings (Amendment) Bill into the Legislative Council shortly to improve the regulatory regime of building works and building safety. The Bill contains a number of proposals, including -

(a) the introduction of a new category of minor works to enable qualified building professionals and contractors to undertake specified minor works, without the need for approval by the Building Authority. Such works include the erection and removal of signboards as well as the removal of UBWs.

(b) increasing the number of persons with relevant experience who may sit on a Contractors' Registration Committee and extending the registration or renewal period for professionals under the Buildings Ordinance.;

(c) requiring the provision of emergency vehicular access for new buildings;

(d) specifying clearly the responsible parties for Unauthorized Building Works; and

(e) increasing fines in connection with serious offences and creating new offences for prosecution purpose.

We will further review the Buildings Ordinance and the relevant regulations on standards of building design and construction in order to increase flexibility and facilitate the use of modern and innovative building design. The scope of the study will cover lighting and ventilation standards as well as standards of fire safety and sanitary facilities. We will consider the need to introduce relevant legislative amendments after the study has been completed.

I appreciate that building management and maintenance inevitably involve legal and financial considerations. The success of our strategy requires the acceptance and participation of building owners. Over the next few months, we will carefully consider various issues and options, with a view to publishing a consultation paper by the end of the year to seek the views of building management companies, professional bodies, District Councils, Owners' Corporations and Mutual Aid Committees. We will seek a consensus on the way forward before deciding on the implementation details.

Thank you, President.

End/Wednesday, April 9, 2003

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