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Speech by SDEV at Building Safety Symposium cum Closing Ceremony of Building Safety Week 2017 (English only) (with photo)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Development, Mr Eric Ma, at the Building Safety Symposium cum Closing Ceremony of Building Safety Week 2017 today (March 24):
 
Director Tin-cheung (Director of Buildings, Dr Cheung Tin-cheung), honorable guests and friends,

Good morning. May I first congratulate the Buildings Department for successfully organising Building Safety Week 2017. Building safety does not only concern us in the field. The public also has a pivotal role to play. Through a myriad of publicity and activities, Building Safety Week has certainly reinforced the importance of building safety in the Hong Kong community.

As a modern society, we do most of our daily transactions in buildings. Buildings define our cityscape. It is thus the Government's goal to ensure that our buildings provide safe and comfortable environments for our fellow Hong Kongers to live and work in. This is a challenging task, particularly considering that by 2046, one in every two buildings in Hong Kong will be aged over 50 years. On the part of the Government, we introduce legislations, take enforcement actions, educate the public and support owners to take appropriate measures to ensure building safety. We also count on the support of professionals like you and the general public at large to achieve this objective. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the key tasks that we are working on.

I am sure many of you still have a vivid memory of the catastrophic fire which took place at a mini-storage in an industrial building near the Amoy Gardens in June last year. We sadly lost two brave firefighters in the tragic fire. The incident has not only reactivated public concern about fire hazards in industrial buildings in general, but also highlighted the significant fire risks posed to inhabitants of illegal dwellings in industrial buildings. This is a risk that the Government cannot ignore.

While the Buildings Department has been taking rigorous actions against illegal domestic use in industrial buildings as part of its risk-based enforcement programme, the Development Bureau is also actively reviewing whether there is room to provide front-line staff with new and more effective tools to tackle such safety hazards.  Specifically, we are formulating legislative proposals to, first, strengthen the enforcement power of the Buildings Department, and second, impose greater sanctions on owners and persons in charge and the like who allow domestic use in industrial buildings. We will shortly consult the Legislative Council on the proposals.  We hope we will have support from all of you.

As I mentioned earlier, by 2046, one out of every two of our building stock will reach 50 years of age. The ageing of buildings is a thorny issue which poses health and safety risks not only for the owners and residents concerned but also for the community as a whole. While owners should understand the importance and value of building safety, we recognise that some of them do find the procedures for undertaking building repair works daunting. They may be scared by news reports on bid-rigging. They may not have the technical knowledge to co-ordinate such complicated works. Some of them may therefore be hesitant in undertaking building repair works, and it is certainly something that we do not want to see.

To help property owners secure the necessary technical support, the Financial Secretary announced last month in his Budget Speech that the Government would earmark $300 million to allow owners to participate in the Smart Tender now run by the URA (Urban Renewal Authority) at a concessionary rate. The new initiative will encourage more property owners to take up Smart Tender with a view to creating a critical mass of Smart Tender participants, which not only cultivates the best practices in undertaking building repair and maintenance projects, but also helps crowd out the opportunity for bid-rigging syndicates to interfere with the building repair and maintenance markets. We estimate that the new initiative could benefit 4 500 buildings in the next five years.

Let me now shift the focus from existing buildings to new ones. As society progresses, I am sure you would all agree that a building control regime should evolve from one which focuses solely on safety to one which also places emphasis on quality living environment and sustainability. It was against this background that we introduced the package of measures to foster a Quality and Sustainable Built Environment in 2011. At the heart of the new measures are the Sustainable Building Design Guidelines and the BEAM (Building Environmental Assessment Method) Plus Assessment, which I am sure many of you are familiar with. New buildings are now required to, among other things, be designed with green elements to enhance the natural ventilation and thus the walkability of our streets, and to go through the BEAM Plus Assessment before seeking concessions on GFA (gross floor area). To press ahead with our efforts on this front, we are about to commence a consultancy study to explore the feasibility of better integrating environmental performance results of buildings with the GFA concessions to be granted. We have to draw on your wisdom on these tasks.

Today's event represents the climax of the Building Safety Week, but Government's efforts in promoting building safety will not end here. Besides the various events over the past week, the Buildings Department organises over 20 events every year, such as the Building Safety Pioneer Programme, comic drawing competitions and over 120 public seminars to promote building safety. Apart from the traditional publicity modes such as television advertisements, the department also uses new platforms such as YouTube and mobile apps to reach out to the public and especially the younger generation. Through these continuous public education efforts, we hope to heighten awareness of building safety and promote building safety knowledge to the general public.

I learned that there will be overseas speakers from Singapore and New York to share their valuable experiences in structural inspection and façade safety in the symposium today. I am sure that the symposium is a great opportunity for professionals to exchange new ideas and best practices. May I once again express my heartfelt congratulations and gratitude to the organising committee, and wish you all a fruitful day ahead. Thank you.

Ends/Friday, March 24, 2017
Issued at HKT 12:50

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