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LCQ4: Barrier-free facilities in commercial premises

Following is a question by the Hon James To and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (May 2):
 
Question:
 
In the three years from 2015 to 2017, the authorities received each year 19, 44 and 49, or a total of 112, reports that some people had undertaken unauthorised building works to remove or alter approved barrier-free facilities. Under the existing requirements, after finding the reports to be substantiated, the Buildings Department (BD) will issue statutory orders to the persons concerned in accordance with the requirements of the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) to order such persons to undertake rectification works. In addition, BD has been conducting the Operation Check Walk (OCW) each year since 1997 to inspect the approved barrier-free facilities in target commercial buildings across the territory to ascertain whether such facilities have been removed or altered, or are obstructed as a result of other addition works. Regarding the barrier-free facilities in commercial premises, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of a breakdown of the aforesaid 112 reports on removal or alteration of approved barrier-free facilities by (i) type of the barrier-free facility concerned, and by the (ii) age and (iii) location of the building concerned, as well as by (iv) BD's way of handling (set out in a table by year); as the number of such reports has shown an upward trend in recent years, whether BD has plans to inspect more commercial buildings; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) in each year since the launch of OCW, of the number of (i) commercial buildings inspected by BD, (ii) statutory orders issued by BD to the persons concerned and (iii) cases in which prosecutions were instituted by BD against persons who had failed to comply with the statutory orders (with a breakdown by District Council district);

(3) of the criteria based on which BD currently selects commercial buildings for inclusion into OCW, and the procedure and methodologies adopted for inspecting such buildings;

(4) as I have learnt that quite a number of members of the public do not know OCW, whether the authorities will step up publicity and public education efforts to enable more members of the public to understand the importance of barrier-free facilities; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether the authorities will consider requiring restaurants to designate, for use by wheelchair diners, part of the dining area access to which by wheelchairs is relatively easy; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) whether the authorities will enact legislation to require that audible vehicle motion sensors be installed at the entrances and exits of public car parks to avoid the occurrence of traffic accidents of blind persons being knocked down by vehicles entering and leaving the car parks; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:
 
President,

To enable persons with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of life, the Government has been taking appropriate measures to ensure their barrier-free access, on an equal basis with others, to facilities and services open or provided for the public. The Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) aims to, amongst others, render unlawful discrimination against persons on the ground of their disability in respect of provision of accommodation, access to premises and the provision of goods, services and facilities to such persons. Providers of facilities or services are required to adopt measures to ensure their compliance with the legislation. The Government also encourages these providers to implement, where practicable, other measures that exceed statutory requirements to provide convenience for persons with disabilities.
 
To comply with the DDO, Section 72 of the Building (Planning) Regulations under the Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123) prescribes design requirements on barrier-free access and facilities to ensure that suitable barrier-free access and facilities are provided in buildings to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. All newly constructed buildings and any alterations or additions to existing buildings are required to comply with the relevant regulations.
 
According to the Buildings Department's (BD) prevailing enforcement policy against unauthorised building works (UBWs), unauthorised removal or alteration of approved barrier-free facilities for persons with disabilities is classified as "actionable" UBWs. The BD takes enforcement actions against "actionable" UBWs according to the BO. Specifically, unless the owner proactively handles the relevant UBWs, say by appointing an Authorised Person to submit rectification proposals, BD will issue a removal order requiring the owner concerned to carry out rectification works by a specific time, and register the removal order in the Land Registry. Since 1997, through the Operation Check Walk (OCW), BD inspects the approved barrier-free facilities of target commercial buildings every year to ascertain whether such facilities have been illegally removed or altered. The OCW aims to let building owners understand their responsibility to properly maintain and repair barrier-free facilities in their buildings.
 
In consultation with Labour and Welfare Bureau, Transport and Housing Bureau and Food and Health Bureau, my reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
 
(1) For the 112 reports received by BD from 2015 to 2017, the number of such reports and the number of statutory orders issued by District Council districts and building age distribution are tabulated below:  

District (Note 1)Building aged 50 years
or above
Building aged 30 to 49 years Building aged below
30 years
Total number of reports
(Number of statutory orders issued) (Note 2)
Central and Western 5 2 7 14 (1)
Eastern 0 6 44 50 (7)
Islands 0 0 2 2 (1)
Kowloon City 2 1 3 6 (1)
Kwai Tsing 0 1 0 1 (0)
Kwun Tong 0 1 1 2 (0)
North 0 0 1 1 (0)
Sai Kung 0 0 1 1 (0)
Sham Shui Po 0 0 1 1 (7)
Southern 0 2 0 2 (0)
Tai Po 0 0 2 2 (0)
Tsuen Wan 0 5 1 6 (0)
Tuen Mun 0 1 4 5 (0)
Wan Chai 4 4 1 9 (0)
Wong Tai Sin 0 0 5 5 (0)
Yau Tsim Mong 1 0 4 5 (1)
Total 12 23 77 112 (18)
Note 1: BD did not receive report in Sha Tin District and Yuen Long District.
Note 2: One report may involve multiple illegal items; one item may involve multiple reports.

BD does not compile statistics on the type of reported barrier-free facilities. Nevertheless, the reports generally involved barrier-free access, removal of accessible toilets as well as handrails and ramps for persons with a disability, alteration, or obstruction by UBWs.  Upon receipt of reports, BD will conduct inspections and take enforcement actions in accordance with the prevailing UBWs enforcement policy.
 
(2) The number of commercial buildings inspected by BD, numbers of statutory orders issued and cases in which prosecutions were instigated against persons who had failed to comply with the statutory orders under the OCW tabulated by District Council districts are appended at Annex.
 
(3) When selecting target buildings, apart from consulting relevant rehabilitation-related non-government organisations and making reference to the advice of District Councils, BD will also consider the locality of the buildings and the number of previous irregularities.  After selecting the target buildings, BD will conduct site inspection to ascertain whether the approved barrier-free facilities in the buildings have been illegally removed, altered or obstructed by UBWs. Where irregularities of barrier-free facilities in the buildings are found, BD will issue statutory orders under the BO to require the owners to rectify the irregularities.
 
Any person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with the order after the specified date shall be guilty of an offence. BD would, in accordance with the requirements of the BO, instigate prosecution against the owners concerned. Such persons shall be liable on conviction to a fine of $200,000 and to imprisonment for one year, and to a fine of $20,000 for each day during which the offence has continued.
 
(4) BD will step up promotion efforts on OCW, for example by updating BD's website, so that to heighten public awareness of the illegality in illegally removing or altering barrier-free access facilities for persons with disabilities.
 
(5) In respect of the proposal requiring restaurants to designate part of the dining area for easier access by wheelchairs, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department issues relevant food business licences in accordance with the Food Business Regulation with a view to protecting public health and food safety. The Food Business Regulation does not require restaurant licence applicants to designate accessible area or facilities for persons with disabilities.
 
At the moment, the Government does not have any plan to further mandate restaurants in designating part of the dining area for easier access by wheelchairs further to the requirements of DDO being met.
 
(6) Regarding the suggestion to legally require public car parks to install vehicle motion detection sound emitting devices at run-in/run-outs, the Transport Department (TD) has been in close contact with the disabled groups to seek their views on traffic and transport matters, including suggestions on barrier-free access and facilities, and will install tactile warning strips on the footpath and hazard warning tiles at both sides of the entrance and exits of driveways to assist the visually impaired where needed. At the same time, the Government has reminded road users through the Road Users' Code to pay particular attention to the surroundings when crossing entrances and exits of driveways. TD has made reference to the practices of overseas countries (e.g. the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore and Australia) and noted that mandatory installation of sound emitting devices at the run-in/run-outs of car parks is not common. The Government does not have any plan to require the mandatory installation of sound emitting devices at the run-in/run-outs of public car parks but will monitor the trends in the relevant standards and review when necessary.

Ends/Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Issued at HKT 14:31

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