Speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, entitled "Owner-Industry Partnership for a Better Living Environment" at the Building Surveyors Conference 2003 of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (English only)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, entitled "Owner-Industry Partnership for a Better Living Environment" at the Building Surveyors Conference 2003 of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors today (October 25) (English only):

Mr Chan, the Honourable PC Lau, ladies and gentlemen,

I am most delighted to join all of you today at the Building Surveyors Conference 2003.

After the SARS outbreak earlier this year, there is increased awareness within the community of the importance of building maintenance. The theme of today's conference, "Servicing Our Buildings to Serve", is therefore most timely.

I note that various distinguished building experts and experienced industry practitioners will speak on this important subject and also on cutting edge issues like the latest building standards, materials and designs for a better built environment. I would like to contribute to this discussion by sharing with you my thoughts on facilitating proper building care by owners.

Need for a Sustainable Quality Built Environment

The SARS outbreak has heightened public awarness of the possible dire consequences of building neglect. Indeed, a positive outcome of this tragic event is that the public now aspires to a safer and more hygienic living environment. Various professional bodies, including your institute, have come up with suggestions on building design and urban design. Some of these suggestions have been taken on board in the Team Clean Report published in August this year. To achieve a clean and healthy living environment in the long run, however, these improvements must be complemented by sustained building care.

For many Hong Kong people, the purchase of a property as their home is their biggest life-time investment. It is imperative that this asset should be kept in good condition to ensure the preservation of its value and good living conditions. It is a pity, therefore, to see so many buildings falling into disrepair. Building neglect has given rise to problems including premature building deterioration, rampant erection of unauthorised building structures, poorly maintained drainage systems and unsatisfactory sanitary conditions. These problems are more prevalent among older buildings without a management structure in the form of, for example, an owners' body or a proper management company.

Existing Measures

We are currently tackling the building management and maintenance problem on three fronts. First, the Buildings Department has stepped up enforcement actions under the Buildings Ordinance in recent years to expedite the work of rectifying building defects and removing unauthorised building structures. The department also takes concerted efforts in co-operation with relevant Government departments to provide one-stop service to owners. At the same time, it operates a low-interest loan scheme to tide over owners with financial difficulties in carrying out the necessary building improvement works.

Second, on the building management front, the Home Affairs Department provides assistance to building owners in the formation of owners' corporations. In addition to the various education and publicity campaigns, the department also gives support to owners on building management matters through its District Building Management Liaison Teams and Building Management Resource Centres.

Third, to address the urban deterioration problem, the Urban Renewal Authority, the URA, was set up in May 2001 to renew our older urban areas through a holistic approach including redevelopment, rehabilitation and preservation. So far, the authority has launched 12 redevelopment projects, a number of pilot rehabilitation projects and one revitalisation project.

Notwithstanding our existing efforts and the considerable resources that go with them, we cannot claim that we are anywhere near solving the urban decay problem. Take the urban renewal programme for example. Although some headway has been made, it would be neither realistic nor right to expect the URA to shoulder the entire urban renewal programme. The number of buildings that are over 30 years old is about 11,000, and will increase by 50% in 13 years' time.

We are keenly aware of many shortcomings in the manner in which we are tackling this problem.

* First, the measures that we have adopted are often one-off in nature and lack lasting impact.

* Second, the urban renewal programme appears to have produced a paradoxical effect of encouraging building neglect.

* Third, the approach of tackling building management and maintenance as two separate policy issues sometimes undermines the effectiveness of our work.

Future Direction

To achieve a better living environment for all, we need a paradigm shift in our approach to building management and maintenance. We believe that this shift requires at least three major elements.

* First, we need to foster a better building care culture among building owners.

* Second, we should bring about proper maintenance through good ongoing building management.

* Third, owners and the industry should work in partnership.

Over the past few months, I have had a series of discussions with relevant professionals, academics and District Councillors on this subject. I am encouraged by the general support for the need to take timely action to tackle the long-standing problem of building neglect. Some of our contacts have proposed to revive the mandatory building inspection scheme. The Hon PC Lau has just spoken on the topic. Of course, we need to consider if a mandatory building inspection scheme meets the test of long-term sustainability. That said, we are open to all ideas and suggestions at this stage.

Multi-disciplinary, One-stop Services

Modern building management and maintenance requires cross-disciplinary effort. The services required range from, for example, providing legal advice to owners, to arranging for the formation of owners' corporations, to carrying out day-to-day proper management, to drawing up regular maintenance schedules and to undertaking scheduled works. Owners also require access to the various services in a relatively hassle-free manner.

We therefore see considerable opportunities for the further development of the building management industry by pulling together the necessary legal, architectural, surveying, management and other related expertise. The idea of a multi-disciplinary building management industry is of course not entirely new. Indeed, some professional building management firms already have such capacity. There is, however, scope for expansion. Some possibilities are, for example, offering "bulk purchase" arrangements for a group of neighbouring buildings to achieve economies of scale and to optimise operating costs, and providing all-inclusive agreements covering both ongoing management and long-term maintenance. The ultimate aim is for the industry to be able to provide competitive long-term one-stop services to building owners.

Integration of Building Maintenance and Management

With the provision of quality and efficient one-stop services by the industry to owners, regular building maintenance would then become an integral part of proper management. Such private sector efforts would enable owners to better discharge their responsibility for the upkeep of their buildings, and would create a win-win situation for owners and the industry alike. Indeed, Hong Kong has many well managed and maintained buildings. The exemplary ones are all serviced by professional building managers. This clearly demonstrates that the integration of ongoing building management and long-term maintenance is achievable. I would encourage the industry to rise up to the challenges.

Owner-Industry Partnership

We do realise that it takes two to tango. Building owners have to accept their responsibility for properly maintaining their buildings. Given that most buildings in poor maintenance have no formal management structure at all, we have received suggestions that it should be made a compulsory requirement for all buildings in multiple ownership to have some form of building management, for example, through the mandatory formation of owners' corporations or appointment of a building manager.

Role of Owners' Corporations

Our preliminary view is that an owners' corporation in itself may not be a guarantee of good management and maintenance, especially if the members are inactive. Besides, there are many buildings without owners' corporations that are well serviced and maintained by building management firms, such as those in large private housing estates. The community needs further discussion on the role of owners' corporations vis-a-vis professional managers in pursuing quality building care.

Other Suggestions

We have also received various suggestions as to how to increase both the push and pull forces in promoting better building maintenance. They include, for example, a building classification scheme, temporary assistance for the genuinely needy and measures for increasing the public's awareness. Obviously they need to be looked into in detail as we take forward the initiative of promoting building management and maintenance.

Way Forward

The success of the initiative depends on the support of all the stakeholders. In our discussions with relevant professional bodies and interested parties, we have been reminded time and again of the complexity of the issue and the varied problems associated with buildings of different ages. We fully appreciate that this long-standing problem cannot be resolved overnight. We believe that we should commence a community discussion on this important subject. In the next few weeks, therefore, we will embark on a consultation exercise to gauge the views of the public. We would like to ensure that the community agrees with the broad principles in the first instance before the implementation details are worked out.

I look forward to receiving your ideas and comments in the forthcoming public consultation exercise. I would also encourage you to actively contribute to the community discussion.

Thank you.

Ends/Saturday, October 25, 2003