LCQ15: Signboard control Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hoi-yan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn, in the Legislative Council today (July 5):
The Buildings Department (BD) has implemented the Large Scale Operation on Target Streets since 2014 to issue statutory removal orders against dangerous and unauthorised signboards. On the other hand, it has been reported that the steel cleaver-shaped signboard of Leung Tim Choppers Factory in Sham Shui Po and the signboard of a pawnshop named "Nam Cheong Pawnshop" in a Grade 3 historic building have been removed earlier on, arousing public concern about signboard conservation. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the BD has compiled statistics on the existing numbers of the following types of signboards: (i) projecting signboards, (ii) neon signs, (iii) wall signboards and (iv) signboards on the roof of a building, with a tabulated breakdown by District Council district;
(2) of the following statistics on signboard-related work of the BD in each of the past five years: (i) the number of removal orders issued, (ii) the number of signboards removed (with a breakdown by way of handling upon removal (i.e. (a) abandonment, (b) handing over to museums and (c) handing over to signboard owners for their own handling)), (iii) the number of signboards repaired, and (iv) the number of outstanding removal orders, with a tabulated breakdown by District Council district;
(3) whether the Government will allocate additional resources and manpower in respect of the work of inspection and examination of signboards; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) given that some conservation groups have requested the Government to preserve some abandoned signboards with distinctive features or historic significance, whether the Government will consider joining forces in conserving such signboards through cross-departmental efforts, including the provision of additional funding and venues for keeping the signboards, etc; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) (BO), the erection of signboards is buildings work. Before the commencement of work, prior approval of plans and consent from the Buildings Department (BD) must be obtained, unless the signboards are smaller in scale and pose less risk and thus fall under the Minor Works Control System or belong "Designated Exempted Works".
The BD has implemented the voluntary Signboard Validation Scheme (SVS) since 2013, allowing the continued use of signboards that are smaller in scale, pose less risk and are already erected before the date SVS came into effect (despite not having obtained the required permission) and meet the prescribed technical specifications for minor works. Under the SVS, such signboards should have undergone safety inspection, strengthening (if necessary) by prescribed building professionals and/or prescribed registered contractors, and certified by the BD. Such signboards are required to undergo safety inspection and certification every five years thereafter.
Besides, under the "risk-based" approach, since 2014, the BD has been carrying out Large Scale Operations (LSOs) on Target Streets every year in which the BD selects target street sections, and carries out LSO against large unauthorised signboards which pose a risk to the public and signboards which had not been validated under SVS, including issuing statutory removal orders or Dangerous Structure Removal Notices in accordance with section 105(1) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132).
According to section 24 of the BO, if signboard owners do not comply with orders, the BD may instruct Government contractors to carry out removal in default and then bill the owners for all relevant costs, and/or instigate prosecution against them. In case of emergency, the BD may arrange contractors to carry out the removal works immediately.
In consultation with the BD and the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau, the reply to the various parts of the question from Development Bureau is as follows:
(1) According to BD website's "Legal/Validated Signboards Database", the numbers of existing legal/validated signboards (including projecting signboards, wall signboards and signboards on roof) by district are set out at Annex 1. These signboards include those with prior approval of the BD, erected under the Minor Works Control System, and validated under the SVS. Because these signboards may involve different materials and forms, and neon light is one of the forms, the BD does not maintain relevant statistics about signboards with neon light.
(2) Statistics of various enforcement efforts relating to unauthorised signboards in the past five years broken down by district is set out at the Annex 2. If the signboards are removed by the owners, they can handle them at their discretion; if the signboards are removed by BD's contractors, they will generally be disposed of. The BD does not maintain relevant statistics about means of handling signboards after removal.
(3) The BD will continue to deploy new technologies to enhance the efficiency of its management of signboards, including BD's ongoing research and development of the Defective Signboards Diagnostic System in which vehicles equipped with photogrammetry and LiDAR equipment patrol certain areas. The captured images will subsequently be analysed through artificial intelligence to identify defective signboards with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of patrolling and enforcement. Besides, the BD has engaged consultants to collect and analyse commercial property transactions and tenancies to identify new businesses and/or tenants that may erect or alter new signboards so that the BD may proactively reach out to them to remind them of the relevant legal requirements.
We will continue to closely monitor the safety issues of signboards and keep in view the manpower available to handle the management of signboards, and increase manpower or resources in accordance with the existing mechanism to strengthen the management of signboards when necessary.
(4) Since 2013, M+ of the West Kowloon Cultural District has been collecting and conserving some neon signs which were removed, alongside a large archive of neon sign documentation in recognition of the important role that neon signs have played in the visual culture of Hong Kong. Currently, five Hong Kong neon signs are now in the M+ Collections, two of which are on display in Conservation and Storage Facility Gallery of M+.
Should signboard owners propose to donate their signboards to museums under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department or West Kowloon Cultural District, the relevant museums will so consider per established procedures.
The BD reviews matters relating to signboard regulation from time to time, taking into consideration relevant factors. Regarding how the BD or its contractors should handle removed signboards, the BD will make appropriate adjustments depending on the outcome of the consideration.
Ends/Wednesday, July 5, 2023
Issued at HKT 11:00