LC: Tackling of illegal structures

Following is a speech by the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr Gordon Siu, during the resumed debate on the Appropriation Bill 2000 in the Legislative Council today (April 5):

Madam President,

A number of Members have spoken on the state of our private buildings and put forward valuable ideas on how to improve the present state of affairs. I would like today to speak on this very important topic.

Modern commercial buildings regularly feature in posters promoting Hong Kong. However, the conditions of buildings in the older districts give a totally different picture. Of some 50,000 buildings on the face of our city, many once properly-designed have fallen into disrepair. Tens of thousands of unauthorized structures sit precariously upon poorly-managed buildings. Illegal building works block means of escape. Dilapidated advertisement signboards hang uneasily over our heads.

Why is there a problem? Firstly, for too long, buildings generally lack good management and proper maintenance. Secondly, some property owners ignore the law, disregard risk to safety and proliferate illegal structures.

Government has established a task force to formulate a comprehensive strategy for building safety and preventive maintenance. This includes reviewing enforcement against unauthorized building works and formulating control of advertisement signs. We in Government will consider all possible impetus and incentives to motivate and support those concerned to organize themselves for good management, timely maintenance and elimination of illegal structures. We are now considering measures to involve different sectors and professional bodies. The study by the task force covers different types of private buildings and we shall be consulting widely. Today, I would like to outline our thoughts on this policy review.

First, for older - many pre-war - buildings, we have before you the Urban Renewal Authority Bill. Nine target areas have been identified for action. I believe Members will support the Bill and Government's strategy for redevelopment, rehabilitation and conservation.

For existing buildings, we will give property owners our fullest support possible to help them improve building safety, management and maintenance. We will strengthen our advisory services to owners and mediate amongst them in case of disputes. In this connection, we aim to expand the scope of independent advice currently provided by quite a number of voluntary professional bodies through Building Management Resource Centres. We will issue a maintenance manual for guidance. We will review the ambit of loan funds for building safety. We will consider the need for legislation to promote timely, preventive maintenance. We will also consider whether or not it is necessary to impose insurance requirements for maintaining common parts and exteriors of buildings.

For unauthorized building works and illegal rooftop structures, we will step up our firm enforcement and prosecution action overall. We will support property owners to eliminate illegal structures and guard against new illegal structures. We are now reviewing legislation and penalties to strengthen the law against those constructing, selling and leasing unauthorized building works, in particular illegal rooftop structures. We are studying ways to ban conveyancing of illegal rooftop structures and to widen the scope for registering a charge against the land title where owners fail to remove illegal structures or to maintain their buildings.

For advertisement signboards, last year Government put forward a scheme for registering their ownership for better control in the interest of public safety. We are formulating details of the scheme in the light of the outcome of previous consultation.

For new buildings, we take a total approach to integrate maintainability and good management throughout the entire life cycle of buildings. The Director of Lands and the Director of Buildings are looking at lease conditions and building regulations to provide the best support and incentives for developers, professionals and contractors to design and construct quality buildings, to use safe, durable and maintainable materials, to contribute to a maintenance fund, and to lengthen the warranty period for latent defects. We will also re-examine guidelines on deed of mutual covenant to focus on property owners' responsibilities for building management and maintenance.

Finally, Government also needs to improve. To enhance efficiency and effectiveness, Buildings Department is conducting a series of review. These include revising procedures to cut red tape and to promote speedier and more effective services for property owners and building professionals. Staff of Buildings Department will regularly review aerial photographs for early identification of illegal rooftop structures. They will also examine the feasibility of digitizing building plans to facilitate easier reference by owners and professionals.

Madam President, Government is determined to raise the quality of private buildings in Hong Kong. We will do our level best to enforce the law. However, Government's efforts alone cannot solve such long-standing problems. Nor can we rely entirely on legislation, enforcement or increase in resources through this Council to mobilize property owners in maintaining their own properties and not building illegal structures. Basically, building maintenance is the responsibility of property owners. Regular maintenance benefits owners and occupants alike and helps enhance the value of their properties. In the days to come, Government, the Legislature, District Councils and professional bodies must take up together the challenge of helping property owners to face up to their own responsibilities. In the coming months, Government will be consulting widely to gather views and to identify solutions. Through public education, we hope also to awaken amongst property owners a proper sense of responsibility. When we later conduct the consultation, my colleagues and I look forward to receiving support from you and co-operation from our community.


End/Wednesday, April 5, 2000