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LCQ19: Provision of basic living facilities to residents in remote areas

Following is a question by Dr the Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 12):

Question:

Some residents of villages have relayed to me that some villages located in remote areas are not provided with basic living facilities at present.  For example, since Wo Liu Village in Sai Kung is not provided with emergency vehicular access (EVA), residents of that village have to carry sick elderly on their back and walk out of the village to seek medical treatment; also, since there is no treated water supply in Mui Tsz Lam in Sha Tin, residents of that village have to fetch water from nearby streams every day during dry seasons for domestic consumption.  The residents of such villages hold the view that the Government is duty bound to provide members of the public with basic living facilities such as emergency rescue service and treated water supply, etc., and that it should not refuse to provide such facilities on grounds of cost effectiveness issues.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective current numbers of villages not provided with EVA and those without treated water supply, as well as the names of these villages;

(2) whether it has plans to construct EVAs and provide treated water for the villages mentioned in (1); if it does, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) as some villages are currently located within country parks or conservation areas, and certain works relating to rural basic living facilities (such as the construction of vehicular access) are prohibited by law, whether the Government will amend the relevant legislation so that the residents of such villages may be provided with basic living facilities on the premise that no ecological impact will be caused; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

My consolidated response, in consultation with relevant bureau and departments including the Environment Bureau, the Home Affairs Department (HAD), the Lands Department (LandsD) and the Planning Department (PlanD), is as follows:

According to the Building (Planning) Regulations (B(P)R) (Cap. 123F), every building shall be provided with an emergency vehicular access (EVA), the design and construction of which shall be compatible with the relevant requirements.  Notwithstanding this, according to the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance (BO(ANT)O) (Cap. 121), New Territories Exempted Houses (NTEHs) are not subject to the control of certain provisions of the Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123) as well as the regulations enacted under BO (including the EVA requirements as stipulated in B(P)R as mentioned above).  According to BO(ANT)O, NTEHs generally shall not exceed 65.03 square metres (700 square feet) in roofed-over area, three storeys and 8.23 metres (27 feet) in height.

Under the above-mentioned legal framework, the Government sets out the administrative arrangements pertaining to the EVA and other fire safety facilities requirements through the "New Territories Exempted Houses – A Guide to Fire Safety Requirements".  These arrangements were introduced in 1997 and modified in 2001 and 2006 having consulted the Heung Yee Kuk as well as relevant departments including LandsD, PlanD, HAD and the Fire Services Department (FSD).  The relevant existing arrangements are as follows:

(a) If an NTEH application site is located less than 30 metres away from an existing EVA, or if a cluster of fewer than 10 houses (including the application site) is located within a radius of 30 metres from the application site, provision of an EVA is not required;

(b) If a cluster of 10 or more houses (including the application site) are located within a radius of 30 metres from an NTEH application site, the applicant should consider ways to provide an EVA to the application site; and

(c) Where an EVA cannot be provided because of geographical constraints or problems with private land ownership, the applicant must implement one of the following fire safety alternatives:

(i) Automatic sprinkler installation; or

(ii) Fire detection system and hose reel system (applicable if there is no fire separation between floors of the three-storey NTEH); or

(iii) Fire detection system and fire extinguisher on each floor of the NTEH (applicable if there is fire separation between floors of the three-storey NTEH).

If the applicant opts for fire safety alternatives (ii) or (iii) above, he or his representative is required to attend a fire safety training course arranged by FSD.

On the planning side, when formulating area layout plans, PlanD would consult relevant Government departments and include in the plans suitable village supporting facilities, including EVAs, so as to tie in with the development of individual rural areas.

As regards the aspect of the provision of village roads, HAD would consider initiating a project under its minor works programme if the department has received a suggestion, and if situation permits and the suggestion is technically feasible.

On the provision of treated water asked by the Honourable Member, remote villages without supply of treated water at present make use of water from streams or wells for daily use.  These raw water supply systems have been in use for many years, and the quality of raw water is being regularly monitored by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.  If necessary, the department would erect appropriate warning signs to remind villagers to boil the water before drinking.  In the event of a dry out of such water sources, the Government would render suitable assistance to help villagers meet their water usage needs.

I reply to the various parts of the question as follows:

(1) Villages within the territory of Hong Kong can be recognised villages under the New Territories Small House Policy; they can also be villages by gradual settlement of communities over a period of time.  Given that some of the villages are located in remote and sparsely populated areas or have geographical constraints, not every village is reached by vehicular access.  The Government does not keep statistics on the number of villages not provided with EVAs or village roads.

There are at present 24 villages without treated water supply.  Amongst them, the treated water supply works for four villages in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island commenced in September this year, and are expected to complete in 2016.  The number of remote villages without treated water supply would then be reduced to 20, as tabulated at Annex.

(2) As previously mentioned, if a building is required under B(P)R to provide an EVA, the relevant building owners shall comply with the relevant requirements.  Where exemption is given under BO(ANT)O, according to the existing administrative arrangements, if the NTEH application is more than 30 metres away from an existing EVA, and if a cluster of 10 or more houses (including the house under application) is located within a radius of 30 metres from the application site, the applicant should take steps to provide the site with an EVA.  Where an EVA cannot be provided due to constraints arising from matters such as geographical or private land ownership issues, the applicant will have to implement fire safety alternatives.

Regarding supply of treated water, some of the remote villages without treated water supply are sparsely populated and are far away from the existing water supply network.  If treated water supply system were to be provided for these remote villages, the low water consumption will cause stagnant water inside the water mains, leading to the deterioration of water quality.  Moreover, the high per-capita capital cost for the provision of treated water supply facilities for these remote villages will need to be considered.

The Government always concerns about and keeps under regular review the water supply in the remote villages.  In the past ten years, the Government completed treated water supply systems for 18 remote villages.  We will continue to conduct the review on a regular basis.  Should the Government decide to provide treated water supply for these remote villages in future, we will submit funding applications in accordance with the prevailing procedures for the implementation of the treated water supply systems.

(3) From time to time, the Government or relevant organisations would construct infrastructural facilities relevant to peoples' livelihood, such as footpaths, water pipes, electricity cables, telephone lines, etc.  If these construction works require land-related approvals, the relevant Government departments or organisations shall apply to District Lands Offices (DLOs) for the related licence or land allocation approvals.  If these works are to take place within Country Parks, then the consent of the Country and Marine Parks Authority must first be sought.  In processing the relevant applications, DLOs would consult the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) as well as other relevant departments.  AFCD would consider the necessity of the projects and the possible impact on the natural environment and put forward suggestions on measures mitigating such impact with a view to catering for the considerations of the needs for the people's livelihood and nature conservation.  We consider that the present application procedure and approval process is working effectively.

As regards areas zoned "Conservation Area" on statutory plans prepared under the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131), according to the Notes of the statutory plans, geotechnical works, local public works, road works, sewerage works, drainage works, environmental improvement works, waterworks and such other public works coordinated or implemented by the Government in areas covered by statutory plans are always permitted and do not require any planning permission.  Relevant works departments can provide the required supporting facilities serving local needs.

Ends/Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:01

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