SDEV speaks about unauthorised building works

The following is the transcript of remarks (English portion) by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, speaking to the media at the Legislative Council today (June 8) on unauthorised building works:

Reporter: Mrs Lam, what is the latest development in handling illegal structures in urban areas and the New Territories and the difficulties in tackling illegal structures in the New Territories?

Secretary for Development: First of all, unauthorised building works (UBWs) are very prevalent in Hong Kong. That is why we have to adopt a very realistic and pragmatic approach to tackle this large amount of UBWs in Hong Kong. Ten years ago, after extensive public consultation, we launched a 10-year programme to tackle and remove those UBWs with imminent danger or which would threaten life and property, as well as those newly constructed UBWs. Because if we do not put a stop to newly constructed UBWs, the problem will continue. So after 10 years of hard work by my colleagues in the Buildings Department, we have more or less removed all those high-risk UBWs with imminent danger. The number is huge: it is over 400,000 UBWs being removed.

As you know, the whole of 2010 was a year when the community was very concerned about building safety. Partly because of the very tragic building collapse in Ma Tau Wai Road, we have again mounted an extensive review of all our work relating to building safety. As a result, we received the Executive Council's endorsement and the whole package of measures to strengthen building safety in Hong Kong was subsequently announced by the Chief Executive in his Policy Address in October 2010.

Basically, it comprises measures in terms of improving the law and also strengthening enforcement against UBWs, extending more assistance to owners in need of our help, both financially and technically, and also extensive public education. I will not go into details of the three other aspects but will just concentrate on enforcement.

As far as enforcement is concerned, we have broadened our enforcement policy to include UBWs on the exterior of a building, basically at rooftops, podiums and back lanes, regardless of whether they pose imminent danger. This is the only change from the previous policy. This is an enhanced enforcement policy which we have rolled out from April this year. But I just want to stress that, because of the numbers of UBWs involved, and of course the limited resources that the Buildings Department has, we will continue to adopt a very orderly approach to tackle this problem. So any concern of rumours being spread that we are doing it excessively and there are hundreds and thousands of people and owners will be affected at the same time are simply not true. We have internal guidelines to set out the priority to deal with reported complaints to us about UBWs under the enhanced enforcement policy.

As far as the New Territories (NT) village houses are concerned, basically their control regime is entirely different from that of the urbanised area. They are not subject to the Buildings Ordinance's control when they were built because they are NT exempted houses. But because they carried again some unauthorised works, so the way to tackle them is really again to adopt what we have done in the urbanised area to determine the enforcement priority and to get on with the works. This is the area of work which we will shortly present to the Legislative Council.

Reporter: Is there any exemption for small projects under the minor works items ....

Secretary for Development: Under the minor works control system, we have introduced a validation scheme. The objective of the validation scheme is where there are certain types of minor works which are really daily necessities of owners, like the air-conditioning installations as well as the racks for drying clothes and so on. Through the validation scheme, we are telling the owners that you do not have to remove them and we would not issue removal orders for them. But when an opportunity arises, you should find a technically competent person to certify the safety and then they could be retained. This is having regard to the large number of such minor works which almost all the owners and flat owners have and also because they are relatively minor and are unlikely to cause major safety risks.

Lately we have decided to extend this validation scheme to signboards because signboards are also sort of basic necessities for doing business in Hong Kong. What I am now saying as I responded to the Hon Paul Tse's question, if together with our industry practitioners, we could identify maybe one or two pieces of minor works that could fulfill those criteria. I have an open mind, but whatever I do in this respect requires another amendment to the law. Nothing could be done through an Administrative basis where it concerns safety and law enforcement.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:45