LCQ2: Building safety and urban redevelopment plans

Following is a question by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung Mei-fun and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (April 21):


Regarding the accident which happened on January 29 this year in Ma Tau Wai Road in which an entire old building which was over 50 years old collapsed and the plan to redevelop old districts, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it is the current practice of the Buildings Department to inspect the exterior conditions of buildings by "naked eyes" only, and whether staff of the Department will enter the premises for a detailed inspection; after the aforesaid tragic collapse of the building, whether the authorities have assessed if the current inspection practice will give rise to an "oversight" situation;

(b) apart from the redevelopment projects which had not been completed by the then Land Development Corporation, of the number of redevelopment projects in old districts which have been implemented by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) since its establishment in 2001, together with a list of the respective amounts of profit made and loss incurred by these redevelopment projects; and

(c) after the tragic collapse of the building in Ma Tau Wai Road, whether the authorities have assessed if its previous injection of $10 billion into URA is sufficient to support the speeding up of urban redevelopment plans; if they have, whether the authorities have planned to inject additional capital into URA or change URA's mode of operation from self-financing to receiving subsidy from the Government by annual allocation, so as to increase the pace of redevelopment?



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

(a) Visual inspection is basically the first step adopted by the professional staff of the Buildings Department (BD) when inspecting buildings to ascertain their structural safety, and the inspection mainly covers the common areas and external walls of buildings.  If the assessment result of the visual inspection reveals that there is such a need, the professional staff of BD will carry out further inspections according to circumstances and will enter individual premises to conduct detailed inspections and examination.  The reasons for adopting this approach are as follows:

(i) For the interior of individual premises, if the conditions of the structural elements have deteriorated due to certain reasons or there are unauthorised structural alterations which lead to overall structural stability problems, evident defects will usually also appear in the adjoining premises or the premises above or below, as well as in the common areas or even on the external walls of the building.  The BD staff are experienced professionals who can competently identify evident defects in the common areas and on the external walls, including defects extending from individual premises to the exteriors when carrying out visual inspections and will take corresponding action which includes entering individual premises to carry out further inspections or issuing investigation orders to the owners concerned; and

(ii) Since external walls are constantly exposed to erosion by wind and rain and it is more difficult to repair and maintain them, their rate of deterioration is faster than that of the interior of a building.  Generally speaking, owners are also more concerned about the repair and maintenance of their own premises the conditions of which are therefore usually much better than those of the common areas and the external walls of the building.

We consider that the approach of building inspection to ascertain structural safety adopted by BD as set out above has been effective and appropriate.  The BD will also review its operation from time to time to continue enhancing the various measures it has adopted to improve building safety.

(b) Since its establishment in 2001, apart from taking over the implementation of 10 redevelopment projects commenced by the former Land Development Corporation (LDC), the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has directly, or through collaboration with the Hong Kong Housing Society, commenced another 38 redevelopment projects, of which 25 were announced by the former LDC in 1998 but yet to be commenced.  In accordance with the Urban Renewal Strategy (URS) promulgated in 2001, the URA should give priority to the implementation of these 25 projects.

The overall financial position of the URA is published in the URA's Annual Report and Audited Accounts.  So far, the URA has not disclosed the profit/loss position of its individual redevelopment projects.  In order to enhance the transparency of the URA's work, we plan to publish the surpluses/deficits of completed projects of the URA when submitting its annual work progress to the Panel on Development of the Legislative Council in June this year.  

(c) The estimated acquisition/rehousing cost for the URA's Ma Tau Wai redevelopment project is estimated at around $1,447 million.  It is expected that a deficit of some $700 million will be incurred.  Nonetheless, the URA's financial position remains healthy.  According to information provided by the URA, as at March 31, 2010, its unaudited net asset value exceeds the $10 billion injected by the Government.

In July 2008, the Government launched a two-year review on the URS.  The review is now at its third stage, namely, the "Consensus Building" stage, which is expected to be completed in mid-2010.  We will report findings to the Panel on Development then.  The overall financing arrangements for the URA, including the objective of a self-financing urban renewal programme in the long run, is also covered in the review.

Ends/Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:45