Following is the speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, on "Quality Enhancement of Buildings" at BuiltExpo 2003 - "Project of the Year" Competition & Exhibition organized by the City University of Hong Kong today (June 9):
Professor Tong, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to join you today at the Opening Ceremony of BuiltExpo 2003.
Over the years, the building industry in Hong Kong has made significant contributions to enhance the quality of our buildings. This quest for a better built environment extends well beyond the construction stage. Maintaining the quality of our buildings throughout the period of their useful lives is an important goal for all of us - the property owners, the industry and Government.
Government's Efforts to Improve the Built Environment
At present, there are close to 10,000 private buildings in the urban areas that are 30 years or older. This number will keep increasing. Maintenance neglect is a common phenomenon amongst older buildings, and timely action is needed to arrest the problem of urban decay. The Government is tackling this issue on three fronts.
First, we have drawn up a programme for priority renewal actions. The Urban Renewal Authority, the URA, was set up in mid-2001 to take forward our urban renewal programme. The URA's statutory mandate encompasses a comprehensive approach of integrating redevelopment, rehabilitation and preservation to address urban deterioration in a holistic manner. The URA is now firming up the details of its rehabilitation strategy for old buildings.
Given the ever increasing number of old buildings, it would neither be realistic nor right to expect the urban renewal programme to resolve the entire urban decay problem. The second leg of our approach to arrest urban decay seeks to ensure continued building safety. For the purpose, the Buildings Department takes enforcement actions under the Buildings Ordinance. I am pleased to announce that we will be making significant headway in improving the building control regime. We have recently introduced into the Legislative Council a number of proposed amendments to the Buildings Ordinance. The most important proposal is the introduction of a minor works system. With the proposed simplified procedures for dealing with minor works, we hope to provide an easier and less costly avenue for complying with building requirements, for example, in the removal of unauthorized building works, whilst still ensuring safety.
The third component lies in fostering a culture conducive to proper building maintenance and management. The Buildings Department launched a loan scheme in 2001 to provide low interest loans to assist owners in carrying out works to improve the safety of their buildings. The amount of loan approved so far exceeds $130 million. The Department also takes the lead in a pilot building maintenance scheme to coordinate the efforts and requirements of relevant departments and in helping the owners in building repairs. Another concrete example is the proactive action that the Department has taken to help building owners to inspect and repair drainage systems in their buildings in the wake of the SARS outbreak.
Private Sector Participation
No amount of Government support, however, can take the place of proper management and maintenance by the owners themselves. After all, the buildings are theirs and the health of their buildings directly impact on them. We need to look no further than the recent SARS outbreak for a reminder here.
For older buildings with multiple ownership and a high ratio of absentee owners, the need for proper maintenance represents both a challenge and an opportunity. We see scope in the development of a building management industry providing competitive long-term one-stop services to building owners in all-inclusive agreements. The package may include providing legal advice to owners and arranging for the formation of owners' corporations, carrying out day-to-day building management such as security and cleaning, drawing up regular maintenance schedules having regard to the condition of the buildings, and undertaking specified works in accordance with the maintenance schedules. To achieve economies of scale and optimize operating costs, it may be beneficial for owners living in different blocks on the same street to join the scheme and appoint a common building manager. In the long run, such arrangements could create a win-win situation for the building owners and the industry.
These are preliminary thoughts. We are currently initiating discussions with relevant professional bodies and exploring various ideas. The success of this initiative depends on the support of all the stakeholders, not least the building owners themselves. We intend to consult the public widely once we have developed more details.
Our commitment to facilitating the private sector's operation extends beyond building quality and quality buildings. For example, the Lands Department will announce shortly the introduction of a "standard waiver fee" arrangement to simplify the approval procedure for the temporary change of use of industrial premises. This will help increase the economic utility of our many vacant industrial buildings. As part of an on-going exercise, we will keep the application procedure for the change of land use under review to make it more user-friendly. We welcome further ideas and suggestions in this regard.
I would like to congratulate all of you for the completion of the 22-month programme. I am sure you all will have much to contribute towards our common objective of quality buildings. May I wish BuiltExpo 2003 every success.
End/Monday, June 9, 2003