Following is a question by Dr Hon Lam Tai-fai and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 19):
It has been learnt that at the meeting between Members of this Council and members of the Tsuen Wan District Council (DC) held on April 29 this year, some DC members complained that the problem of illegal rooftop structures (IRSs) on single-staircase buildings in the district was serious, and it had plagued residents for years which was not yet resolved. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the total number of single-staircase buildings in Hong Kong at present, broken down by DC district, and among them, the number of buildings found to have IRSs;
(b) given that the Buildings Department (BD) has indicated that according to the requirement of the "Code of Practice for the Provision of Means of Escape in Case of Fire", in the case of a single-staircase building in which the level of the highest floor is more than 13 metres above ground level (i.e. exceeding three storeys in height in general), the staircase should be continued to the roof, which is the fire refuge area for residents, therefore it is BD's target to remove all IRSs on single-staircase buildings exceeding three storeys in height in Hong Kong, whether the authorities will expand the aforesaid target to include removing IRSs on single-staircase buildings not exceeding three storeys in height;
(c) of the latest progress of BD's operation to remove IRSs on 5,500 single-staircase buildings, and after the removal of IRSs, the total number of such buildings found to have IRSs re-erected; whether there are measures to curb such situations; if there are, whether it has assessed the measures’ effectiveness; if not, the reasons for that;
(d) since the launch of the operation to remove IRSs on single-staircase buildings, of the number of warning notices registered with the Land Registry by the Building Authority (BA) in respect of the notices BA issued to the owners concerned for the removal of IRSs, and among such structures, the number of those which still have not been removed to date, and of the measures taken by BD to solve this problem;
(e) apart from the operation to remove IRSs on single-staircase buildings, whether BD had, in the past five years, taken other actions to tackle such IRSs; if it had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(f) whether there is any existing measure to assist property owners, who are unable to take out third party insurance for their premises due to the existence of illegal structures on rooftops of their buildings, in taking out insurance; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(g) what measures the authorities have in place to assist property owners in removing illegal structures on rooftops which are located in the common areas of their buildings; and
(h) of the criteria based on which the authorities assess whether illegal structures pose immediate danger, and whether those criteria include the factor of adverse weather?
According to the Buildings Department (BD)'s requirement, for buildings of which the level of the highest floor is more than 13 metres above ground level (which is equivalent, in general, to buildings of over three storeys in height), the rooftop acts as the refuge area for residents in case of fire. Illegal rooftop structures (IRSs) on such buildings will obstruct the refuge area, thus posing serious fire safety risk to the residents. To safeguard public safety, the BD launched a special enforcement operation in 2001. The target was to remove IRSs on some 4,500 single staircase buildings exceeding three storeys within seven years. The operation had already been completed in 2007. During the operation, the BD identified that some 1,000 additional single staircase buildings over three storeys in height also had IRSs constructed. Therefore, the BD continued the clearance operation to tackle the problem. This further clearance operation is also near completion.
The reply to the eight-part question is as follows:
(a) The BD does not have statistical information on the distribution by District Council district of single staircase buildings in Hong Kong at present. Regarding the abovementioned some 5,500 single staircase buildings over three storeys with IRSs identified, the distribution of their numbers according to the District Council district is as follows:
Central and Western District
Sham Shui Po
Wong Tai Sin
Yau Tsim Mong
(b) The clearance of IRSs on single staircase buildings is to remove serious fire hazards. All buildings in Hong Kong shall comply with the requirements under the Buildings Ordinance and the Building (Planning) Regulations to provide means of escape in case of emergencies. The BD has issued the "Code of Practice for the Provision of Means of Escape in Case of Fire" to provide guidelines for compliance with the requirements on means of escape. The Code requires that if the level of the highest floor of a building is more than 13 metres above ground level, the staircase should be continued to the roof which acts the fire refuge area for residents in case of fire. Therefore, the BD's target is to accord priority to clear IRSs on these buildings. Regarding IRSs on other single staircase buildings, the BD will tackle them in accordance with the prevailing enforcement policy against unauthorised building works (UBWs). If the concerned IRSs constitute obvious danger to life or property, the BD will take immediate enforcement action. If they do not fall within the categories that require immediate enforcement, the BD will issue warning notices to the concerned owners requiring them to remove the IRSs. If an owner does not remove the concerned structure upon the expiry of the period prescribed in the warning notice, the BD will deliver the warning notice to the Land Registry for registration in the relevant land register. The registration will only be cancelled after the removal of the structure.
(c) As at the end of April 2010, out of the abovementioned some 5,500 single staircase buildings over three storeys in height with IRSs, the BD has already removed the IRSs on some 5,370 buildings. Enforcement action will continue so as to tackle the rest of the single staircase buildings.
To stop the proliferation of new unauthorised structures, the BD has commissioned consultants to set up special inspection teams to investigate into and follow up with reports lodged by the public, carry out regular patrol over the territory to proactively identify UBWs under construction and take appropriate enforcement action. If the BD discovers unauthorised re-erection of structures on the some 5,500 single staircase buildings, it will take immediate enforcement action. Last year, the Department issued around 140 orders in total to enforce against re-erection of IRSs, of which most were minor illegal structures such as shelters made of light-weight material, prefabricated storage installations, etc. Most of the owners complied with the orders to remove the illegal structures. Regarding the owners who fail to comply with the orders, the BD will continue to follow up and consider initiating prosecution.
(d) Regarding the removal of IRSs on single staircase buildings launched since 2001, the BD issues removal orders instead of warning notices to the owners concerned. As mentioned in part(c), the BD will continue to tackle the IRSs on the remaining some 130 single staircase buildings.
(e) As mentioned in part(b), the BD's target is to accord priority to clear IRSs on single staircase buildings of over three storeys in height in Hong Kong. Regarding IRSs on other single staircase buildings, the BD will take immediate enforcement action if the IRSs constitute obvious danger to life or property. If the IRSs do not fall within the categories that require immediate enforcement, the Department will issue warning notices to the concerned owners requiring them to remove the IRSs. If an owner does not remove the concerned structure upon the expiry of the period prescribed in the warning notice, the BD will deliver the warning notice to the Land Registry for registration in the relevant land register. The registration will only be cancelled after the removal of the structure.
(f) & (g) Building works in contravention of the Buildings Ordinance may have been carried out in certain buildings resulting in difficulty in procurement of third party risks insurance. For such buildings, the BD together with its partner organisations, including the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and Urban Renewal Authority (URA), offer various loan and subsidy schemes to provide financial and technical support to assist owners’ corporations (OCs) and individual owners in need to repair their buildings, including the removal of UBWs. The assistance schemes include the "Comprehensive Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme" administered by the BD; the "Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners", "Building Maintenance Incentive Scheme" and "Home Renovation Loan Scheme" administered by the HKHS as well as the "Building Rehabilitation Materials Incentive Scheme" and "Building Rehabilitation Loan Scheme" administered by the URA. The Administration will continue to encourage OCs and owners to make use of these assistance schemes to demolish UBWs. Technical advice will also be provided to owners should they encounter any difficulties in carrying out demolition works.
In addition, to assist owners or occupants of IRSs to handle the problems arising from clearance operations, the BD has collaborated with several government departments, including the Housing Department (HD), Home Affairs Department and Social Welfare Department (SWD), to establish a mechanism to maintain close coordination and cooperation to provide assistance to the concerned owners and occupants. Under the established mechanism, before issuing removal orders to the concerned owners, the BD will inform the departments concerned in advance, including the SWD, so as to provide assistance to the affected parties. The HD will carry out registration for occupants affected by clearance and arrange for rehousing for eligible occupants. For the purpose of early identification and handling of emotional problems and other difficulties facing owners and occupants affected by clearance, the BD has commissioned non-governmental social service organisations to set up social service support teams in the Department, with dedicated social workers to provide counselling, support, referral and other services to the concerned owners and occupants.
(h) If the BD identifies new UBWs, re-erected UBWs, UBWs under construction, UBWs constituting obvious danger to life or property, or UBWs constituting a serious hazard or serious environmental nuisance, it will take immediate enforcement action to safeguard public safety and health. Regarding structural condition of UBWs, professional staff of the BD will carry out inspection to determine if the structures constitute obvious or imminent danger by considering, amongst other things, whether they are in a serious dilapidated condition, structurally unstable or in excess of the load bearing capacity of the parent buildings. The factor that UBWs have been eroded under natural environment (including "inclement weather") or have become dilapidated due to disrepair, rendering their structure dangerous, is also one of BD's considerations for taking enforcement action.
Ends/Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:56