LCQ5: Removal of unauthorised building works

Following is a question by Dr Hon Pan Pey-chyou and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (March 10):


In 2001, the Buildings Department (BD) implemented a 10-year enforcement programme against unauthorised building works (UBWs), which includes undertaking large-scale clearance operations each year to clear in one go UBWs on the external walls and in the common areas of selected target buildings.  BD issues more than 30 000 UBWs removal orders on average each year.  Yet, some members of the public have pointed out that quite a number of such UBWs still exist despite removal orders having been issued for several years, with more and higher UBWs emerging, and they are gradually becoming urban risks.  Regarding the progress of BD's UBWs removal exercise, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the breakdown of the current number of UBWs in Hong Kong by whether or not they belong to the category of immediate enforcement action; the anticipated time needed to complete clearance of all UBWs according to the present progress; what plans the authorities will put in place to remove or deal with the remaining UBWs which belong to the category of non-immediate enforcement action upon completion of the aforesaid enforcement programme by the end of March 2011, as well as the number of such UBWs;

(b) given that some members of the public have relayed to me that there are still many unauthorised signboards and shopfront projections which belong to the category of non-immediate enforcement action in Yau Tsim Mong and Causeway Bay districts, what new measures or proposals the authorities have to prevent such signboards or projections from falling; and

(c) of the current staff establishment at all levels responsible for clearance operations; the respective numbers of civil servants, non-civil service contract staff and staff continuously employed through outsourcing within such establishment; whether the authorities can remove the UBWs concerned as planned with the present establishment; whether the Government will consider recruiting more staff to expeditiously clear the remaining UBWs; if it will, of the number of additional staff required to be employed; if not, the reasons for that?



According to the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123), all building works (except exempted works) require the Building Authority’s prior approval of plans and consent for commencement before such works can be carried out.  Building works constructed not in accordance with such procedures are unauthorised building works (UBWs) in breach of the law.

     The problem of UBWs was serious in Hong Kong in the late 1990s.  In 2001, the number of UBWs in Hong Kong was around 800 000 as estimated by the Buildings Department (BD).  Some UBWs, in particular certain large-scale projections such as steel cages and flower racks, were commonly found at that time.  In view of the large number of UBWs, the Government had formulated an enforcement policy: when the BD identifies UBWs that are newly constructed, posing obvious danger to life or property, or constituting a serious health hazard or environmental nuisance, the Department will immediately take enforcement action.

The reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) During the ten-year enforcement programme which commenced in 2001, the BD, to date, has removed around 380 000 UBWs, already exceeded its target of demolishing around 40 000 UBWs a year.  Up till now, most of the high-risk UBWs have been removed.  We anticipate that by the end of the ten-year programme in end of March next year, the BD will have removed more than 400 000 UBWs.  We believe that most of the UBWs to be cleared under the above established enforcement policy will have been removed by that time.  Should more UBWs that require immediate enforcement action be identified, the BD will take enforcement action swiftly.

We have initially taken stock of the achievements of the ten-year programme and are reviewing the Government's overall strategy for enhancing building safety in Hong Kong.  We will continue to adopt a multi-pronged approach to tackle building safety problem in Hong Kong, covering major areas such as legislation; inspection and enforcement; support and assistance measures, as well as public education and publicity.  Since the Development Bureau has already explained in detail the various aspects of our work in different areas during the two motion debates of the Legislative Council and the meeting of the Panel on Development held last month, I am not prepared to repeat them here.  Nevertheless, when we study the measures for enhancing building safety in the next few months, we will seriously consider the comments and concerns over various issues previously raised by Members.  The study will also include enforcement action against UBWs.

(b) We believe that the measures that planned to be rolled out, in particular the minor works control system, the mandatory building inspection scheme and the mandatory window inspection scheme, will effectively tackle the problem of unauthorised signboards and shopfront projections and will also help to curb the emergence of new UBWs.

Moreover, the BD will continue to carry out inspection and enforcement actions against shopfront decorations and projections and unauthorised signboards, and handle the public's reports.  The BD will also step up inspection of the roadside along pedestrian precincts and areas with heavy pedestrian flow, such as Yau Tsim Mong and Causeway Bay districts.  The Department will also launch special operations from time to time to focus on the removal of target UBWs.  For instance, in March 2009, the BD embarked on a 12-month special operation to remove 5 000 abandoned signboards on top of the Department's annual clearance target.  Up to end February 2010, around 5 500 abandoned signboards (more than the original target) were removed under the special operation.

(c) Staff of the Existing Buildings Divisions of the BD are responsible for the programmes for removal of UBWs.  It is part of their work in connection with other related work concerning building safety and maintenance.  As at the end of January this year, there are in total 473 civil servants in the Existing Buildings Divisions of the BD.  Also at the end of January this year, there are 482 time-limited non-civil service contract (NCSC) staff for the implementation of the ten-year clearance programme.  Moreover, the BD has engaged 32 private consultant firms to assist in carrying out the work.  With the existing manpower, the BD expects to accomplish the planned targets of removal of UBWs by the end of March 2011 as scheduled for in the ten-year enforcement programme.

Upon the completion of the ten-year enforcement programme, the relevant resources for the programme will come to an end.  The BD will redeploy its regular resources and focus on the implementation of the new statutory control system, public education programme and preventive inspection and repair programme.  The Development Bureau will ensure that the BD has sufficient resources to protect building safety in Hong Kong.

The Administration is comprehensively reviewing the strategy and necessary measures to enhance building safety in Hong Kong in the future, including the required manpower resources.  The Development Bureau and the management of the BD will keep communicating with the staff of the Department, including NCSC staff.  If the contracts of some of the staff are not renewed upon expiry of the existing contracts, the BD will provide appropriate career assistance to help them find new jobs.

Ends/Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:53