Government determined to tackle UBWs


Government is determined to remove the risks to public safety posed by unauthorised building works (UBWs) and illegal rooftop structures (IRS), Head of the Task Force on building safety and preventive maintenance, Mrs Helen Yu Lai Ching-ping said today (January 8).

"Tackling UBWs is the third of our study and completes the task force's proposed strategy for building safety and timely maintenance.

"With this strategy, we will go to District Councils and other bodies for further consultation," said Mrs Yu.

The task force has proposed a multi-prong approach, including enhancing assistance to property owners in need, stepping up enforcement action, modernising the Buildings Ordinance and maximising market forces to tackle the risks posed by the 800,000 UBWs including IRSs.

On enforcement, the Buildings Department should continue its "blitz" approach to launch major operations to clear UBWs. It will abort attempts at new or re-erections promptly. Vacated IRSs should also be cleared as soon as they are identified.

"Government will not allow the problem to perpetuate," Mrs Yu said.

The Buildings Department aims to increase the number of buildings to be cleared of external UBWs from 500 and 600 to 900 and 1,000 in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

Together with other programmes such as the Coordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme, the operations can clear 150,000 to 300,000 UBWs in five to seven years.

The task force sees a need to rationalise and modernise the Buildings Ordinance for more effective enforcement and more efficient operations.

The Buildings Authority should devolve greater authority to building professionals and contractors.

Penalties should be updated for stronger deterrent. Other legislative measures proposed include:

a. Creating a category for "minor works" and a register of "minor works contractors" for amenity features and signboards;

b. Empowering building professionals and contractors to certify the safety of certain works;

c. Empowering the Buildings Department to recover the cost for the removal of UBWs in common parts from individual owners apart from the owners' corporations;

d. Enhancing Building Authority's powers to stop erection of UBWs immediately on site;

e. Upgrading advisory letters to statutory warning notices registrable against the title with the Land Registry.

The Buildings Authority will further consult building professionals and contractors on the precise definition, types and dimensions of "minor works" such as the size of signboards.

As for IRSs, Government should accord priority to clearing them from all single-staircase buildings to remove their risk as potential "fire-traps".

The Housing Department has agreed to assist in rehousing affected rooftop occupants. Enforcement action will be taken at the pace of rehousing. No one would be made homeless.

"Any action must not encourage more IRSs. We should be fair to applicants on public housing waiting list," Mrs Yu explained.

To underline the illegality of rooftop structures, the task force has proposed that rates should not be collected from new IRSs. Given their prompt removal, there is no need for supply of water and electricity.

The task force has further proposed that the sale and letting of the IRSs should be banned.

It is also for consideration whether owners should be required, before transfer of title, to certify that their property carry "no unauthorised building works on external walls".

The task force has suggested merging the existing Building Safety Improvement Loan Fund and Fire Safety Improvement Loan Fund and to extend the ambit of the combined $700 million-fund to cover removal of UBWs.

Government departments concerned are committed to helping property owners and owners' corporations take up their responsibilities. In this connection, the Buildings Department will provide technical advice and assistance to owners on building maintenance and removal of UBWs through the "one-stop" service provided by its Building Coordinators and enhanced by the pilot Coordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme.

It will also produce a comprehensive layman's guide to building safety and maintenance including removal of UBWs.

End/Monday, January 8, 2001