Speech by Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands at annual seminar organised by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, at the 6th Annual Seminar organised by the Building Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers today (March 12):

Mr Yu, Mr Leung, Dr Ho, distinguished guests,

Good morning. It is my pleasure to participate in this seminar organised by the Building Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers.

The subject of this seminar, "Globalisation of Building Construction and Contracting", is one which impacts on many of us and merits our consideration and discussion. Thanks to the efforts of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, participants of the seminar, comprising professionals from various disciplines as well as representatives of the Government, have the chance to be here to exchange views on such an important topic today. In order for the building industry in Hong Kong to flourish amid a globalised environment, concerted effort from both the public and private sectors is called for. We need to liaise closely to formulate strategies which resonate with the international trend and create a suitable platform for the industry to prosper in a sustainable manner.

With the advancement in building technologies, the building industries in different economies all over the world are undergoing rapid development. There is rising public demand for modern building design and people expect more sophisticated and better-equipped buildings to be constructed for the benefit of building users and occupants. In Hong Kong, all private building works are under the control of the Buildings Ordinance. In order to promote modern and innovative building design, the Government introduces amendments and updates to the Ordinance from time to time to respond to the continuous development of the building industry and the demands from the society. In this regard, the Buildings Department maintains a close liaison with the industry. Besides, the department, through various channels and contacts, gauges the views of the building professionals and the public with an aim to formulating policies and regulatory measures that best fit the modern developments of Hong Kong. To modernise the Buildings Ordinance, we have introduced a number of amendments to the legislation in recent years for various updating and improvement purposes. These include:

(i) requiring all new development projects to provide emergency vehicular accesses so that fire service vehicles can gain access to such premises safely and without obstruction;

(ii) establishing a register of Registered Geotechnical Engineers and requiring such engineers to be appointed for all building projects involving geotechnical works to ensure the professional quality of such projects; and

(iii) introducing the issue of warning notices against unauthorised building works. If the concerned unauthorised building works are not removed within a specified period, the Buildings Department will register the warning notices at the Land Registry. Such registration will only be withdrawn after the unauthorised building works are completely demolished.

Under the extant Buildings Ordinance, the regulatory control over the planning, design and construction of buildings is, to a large extent, written in the form of prescriptive standards. In recent years, there has been a global trend to adopt "performance-based" building standards. Both overseas and local experiences reveal that a performance-based regulatory system not only allows flexibility and creativity for professionals in building design, but also enables practitioners to adopt more advanced and innovative building features. Such performance-based regulatory system can better accommodate the advancements in technology and the ever-evolving needs of the society.

The Buildings Department is actively reviewing the regulatory standards in the Buildings Ordinance concerning the planning, design and construction of buildings, with a view to formulating performance-based control requirements. The areas under detailed examination include drainage systems, building construction and fire safety requirements. The reviews are nearing completion, and the Buildings Department has promulgated a few new codes of practice to provide guidelines for performance-based building construction. These include the "Code of Practice for Foundations" and the "Code of Practice for Structural Use of Concrete" published in 2004 as well as the "Code of Practice for the Structural Use of Steel" published in 2005. The department will continue its review on other areas so as to provide further guidelines on modern building design and construction practices.

We are also planning to introduce a minor works control system under the Buildings Ordinance. The philosophy of the system is to apply an appropriate level of control and regulation over building works in accordance with their nature, complexity and safety needs. Such system should provide a simple and efficient statutory route for the public to carry out minor building works.

Under the extant Buildings Ordinance, all kinds of buildings works, despite their scale and complexity, are governed by one single control regime. Building owners have to appoint registered building professionals as well as registered building contractors to carry out all building works. Prior approval and consent from the Building Authority have to be sought before the commencement of works. While such regime provides very stringent control over building works, in reality, many building works are very simple and are of a small scale. Examples of such minor works include repair of windows, installation of supporting frames for air conditioners and erection of small signboards.

We accept the view that the control of building works should be commensurate with their nature, complexity and safety needs. For minor building works, we propose a simplified procedure for their scrutiny and regulatory control. Under the proposed control system, building owners should, according to the category and type of minor works, hire registered minor works contractors to carry out such works. For small-scale household minor works such as installation of supporting frames for air conditioners, there will be no need to appoint authorised persons or registered building professionals. Nevertheless, regarding larger scale minor works such as those involving more substantial additions and alternations, the co-ordination from authorised persons and professionals will still be required. However, we believe that there is no need to seek the Building Authority's prior approval and consent for carrying out such works. And so under the minor works regime, we are proposing, we only require the submission of a report to the Authority by the relevant contractors or building professionals upon completion of such works. We have dispensed with the requirement of their prior approval. The new minor works control system will provide building owners with a simple, safe and effective route to conduct minor building works. It will rationalise building control, improve the quality of building works and at the same time maintain building safety.

The Buildings Department has established a working group to map out and refine the details of the minor works control system proposal, the membership of which comprises the relevant building professional bodies, the Hong Kong Construction Association and the Minor Works Concern Group. We have consulted widely the relevant stakeholders on the proposal, and organised four open seminars to introduce the proposed system and exchange views with the relevant stakeholders in November and December last year. Having regard to the views collected, we are finalising the proposal and we plan to introduce the Buildings (Amendment) Bill into the Legislative Council within the current legislative year. Meanwhile, the Buildings Department will continue its exchange of ideas with the industry to seek their further views on the supporting measures and other details for the proposal, with a view to ensuring the smooth implementation of the new control system after its introduction.

Turning now to the proposed mandatory building and window inspection schemes, I am pleased to re-affirm our resolve to tackle the building neglect problem in a comprehensive manner in the long run. We have conducted a two-stage public consultation in order to formulate a feasible and publicly acceptable scheme for mandatory building and window inspections. The results of the public consultation reveal that the public in general support the implementation of mandatory building and window inspection schemes in order to ensure public safety. The public also agree that building owners should upkeep their building in good repair, including bearing the necessary costs.

We are now fine-tuning the implementation details of the mandatory building and window inspection schemes in the light of the public views received. We will enhance our support measures, in the form of financial and technical assistance, to owners in need to complement the mandatory schemes. We plan to announce the results of the public consultation and implementation arrangements of both schemes shortly.

To keep Hong Kong's building industry abreast of international trends and to sustain Hong Kong's competitiveness as an international city, the Government has to work hand in hand with the industry in order to formulate conducive and timely policies and strategies. The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers has been our close partner in this regard. I take this opportunity to thank the Institution for its support over the years. I hope that the Institution will achieve new heights in the years to come, and wish today's seminar a big success. Thank you.

Ends/Monday, March 12, 2007
Issued at HKT 11:35