Government pledges action with assistance for building safety


Government today (April 23) announced at a press conference the implementation plan of its comprehensive strategy for building safety and timely maintenance.

"Buildings in disrepair are a threat: they pose risk to life and limb. Illegal structures are a liability: they breach the law and scar our city. We ignore building safety at our own peril," Head of Task Force on building safety and preventive maintenance, Mrs Helen Yu Lai Ching-ping cautioned.

"The strategy combines firm action with practical assistance," Mrs Yu said. "Property owners must take up the responsibility for maintaining and managing their own buildings. Government will help responsible owners and action against the non-compliant. Our community must action in partnership for a positive culture of building care."

The task force, set up under the Planning and Lands Bureau in February 2000, put together proposals for public consultation. These comprised different solutions for different groups of private buildings, according to both their age and condition.

It has consulted the Legislative Council, the Land and Building Advisory Committee, all 18 District Councils, more than 50 professional institutes and some 9,000 owners' corporations and representative bodies. It has held 74 discussion sessions. A total of 207 submissions and commentaries have been collected. The comprehensive strategy has received warm support.

The Secretary for Planning and Lands will steer, co-ordinate and monitor implementation. The implementation plan is set out in a leaflet published today (April 23).

The main features of the multi-prong strategy are:

* enhanced financial assistance, professional support and customised training for owners in need;

* a new co-ordinated approach to enforcement against maintenance and other building-related problems;

* a revised enforcement policy for wider scope for action against unauthorised building works (UBWs);

* focus on the importance of forward planning for maintenance, for both new and existing buildings, e.g. setting up maintenance reserve funds;

* devolution of authority and responsibility to professionals and contractors as partners in building safety;

* recourse to market forces and economic considerations, e.g. building classification;

* a simple self-financing system for registering signboards; and

* community participation, District Council involvement and sustained public education for positive attitudes.

Hong Kong should be able within seven years to improve the safety, condition and outlook of buildings 20 to 40 years old including removal of UBWs; clear the illegal rooftop structures on all single-staircase buildings; and to regulate and control all signboards.

Hong Kong aspires to be a world-class city. Government is committed to providing a safe built environment and an attractive city outlook. To this end, Government will sustain multi-media community education.

Thanking the community for comments and feedback, Mrs Yu said, "It is now time for implementation. We look to our executive departments, particularly Buildings Department and Home Affairs Department, for firm action in enforcement and fullest possible assistance to responsible owners."

The Director of Buildings, Mr Leung Chin-man and the Director of Home Affairs, Ms Shelley Lee then explained their departments' role in implementing the strategy.

"We have revised our enforcement policy with changes in circumstances and increases of resources over the years. We have been conducting 'blitz' operations to clear at one go all external unauthorized works on hundreds of buildings," Mr Leung said.

"This has effectively raised owners' compliance and we will adopt this approach for major clearances, particularly those items on the external walls of buildings 20 to 40 years old and some podiums and rooftops or in yards and lanes," he declared.

With the revised enforcement policy, Mr Leung saw that these operations would remove 150,000 to 300,000 UBWs in five to seven years.

"Building control should be commensurate with the degree of risk to safety. The Buildings Department (BD) is drawing up a new category of 'minor works' for safety certification by professionals or contractors," he said.

BD has been examining existing powers and penalties to make for more stringent enforcement and stronger deterrent. The Buildings Ordinance would be amended to empower BD to effectively cease illegal erection on site immediately.

Advisory letters to property owners would be upgraded to statutory warning notices registrable against the title and penalties for non-compliance would be updated.

Mr Leung said these measures were crucial to stopping the proliferation and persistence of UBWs.

On professional support, BD will designate building co-ordinators, each for a pool of buildings, to serve as district-based contacts and to provide 'one-stop' service for owners.

On the control of advertisement signboards, Mr Leung said the Government would introduce simple, self-financing registration in the coming legislative session. New and existing signboards would be registered, with requirements for structural and fire safety commensurate with their risk to public safety including size.

A two-year grace period would be given for owners of existing signboards. Unregistered signboards would be removed thereafter.

"The Home Affairs Department had started to restructure and expand the headquarters and to re-constitute outreach teams in Districts Offices to provide assistance to owners and owners corporations, responding to enquiries and assist in case of dispute," Ms Shelley Lee said.

"To complement the efforts of local District Offices, the two Building Management Resource Centres will act as regional centres in referring enquiries and complaints and the Department is examining the case for two more centres.

"We will also organize some 30 training courses for owners this year and step up training for our own staff with the help of tertiary institutions," Ms Lee added.

In reviewing the functions of District Councils, Government will take into account the scope of strengthening their role in relation to building safety and timely maintenance as they are well-placed to report and assist in local building safety problems.

End/Monday, April 23, 2001