Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (February 29):
It has been reported that a member of the public bought an "Oceanaire Garden Residence" flat situated on the podium floor of a residential property named "Oceanaire" in Ma On Shan at a price of $7 million. As the member of the public bought the flat during the pre-sale of uncompleted flats of the property, it was not until two months ago when he took possession of the flat that he came to know that it is actually situated on the ground level, and he suspects that the contents of the sales brochure of the property are misleading. The sales brochure states that the residential flats are situated on the podium floor and on the fifth to the 30th floors, and there is no ground floor, first to fourth floors, 13th, 14th and 24th floors in the property. The floor plans are only in English and the distance between the podium floor and the ground level is not indicated; further, the layout plan of the clubhouse shows that the podium floor is situated above the clubhouse which is on the first floor. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) when approving the building plans of the aforesaid residential property, whether the Buildings Department (BD) had considered if the contents of the sales brochure would mislead buyers into believing that the flats on the podium floor which they bought are not on the ground level; if it had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) given that according to the Practice Note for Authorised Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers (Practice Note) amended by BD in May 2010, omission of floor numbers "4", "13" and those ending with a "4" may be accepted, but assigning floor numbers with other omissions would not be allowed, and the use of non-numerical names, alias names, alternative floor numbers (e.g. in the form of "also known as x/F"), illogical or non-consecutive numbers would also not be accepted for assigning floor numbers, so as to avoid causing confusion to potential property buyers, visitors and government departments which provide emergency services, whether the authorities had, when approving the building plans of "Oceanaire", assessed if the developer had violated the Practice Note by stating that flats located below the fifth floor are on a non-numerical floor of "podium floor" and omitting the first to third floors; if so, of the details and whether they had requested the developer to amend the plans properly; if no assessment had been made, the reasons for that; and
(c) according to the Government's proposed legislation to regulate the sales of first-hand residential properties, whether the aforesaid "Oceanaire" case has violated any provision in the proposed legislation; if so, of the details; if not, whether it will consider including the relevant requirements, so that the proposed legislation can better protect the consumers?
In vetting and approving building plans, the Building Authority (BA) must act according to the Buildings Ordinance (BO). Section 16 of the BO stipulates the grounds on which the BA may refuse to approve building plans. These provisions do not provide for a ground related to sales brochures. Therefore, in vetting and approving building plans, the BA will not consider the contents of sales brochures.
If the land grant contains a provision requiring the Deed of Mutual Covenant (DMC) to be approved by the Director of Lands, Lands Department (LandsD), when vetting and approving the DMC, will take the floor numbers shown on the building plans approved by the BA as the floor numbers to be set out in the DMC. If the land grant contains another provision requiring the developer to obtain the presale consent of the Director of Lands before the issue of the Certificate of Compliance, the sale of uncompleted units will be subject to LandsD's Consent Scheme. The Consent Scheme requires developers to provide information on floor numbering in the section entitled "Basic Information of the Development" at the front part of the sales brochure. Such information should accord with the information as set out in the approved DMC.
While the floor numbering system of buildings is not a ground on which the BA may refuse to approve plans under section 16 of the BO, the BA has drawn up a Practice Note for Authorised Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers on "Standardisation of Floor Numbering"(the Practice Note) with a view to formulating a reasonable approach and a code of good practice for floor numbering for the industry to adopt. Despite that the Practice Note is advisory in nature, according to past experience, the industry will follow it. In view of public concerns on floor numbering systems, the BA last conducted a review on the Practice Note in 2009 and introduced revisions in May 2010 following a thorough discussion with stakeholders. Under the prevailing Practice Note, when submitting plans to the BA for approval, the Authorised Person must clearly and unequivocally indicate the numbering of each floor on the plans. If the BA or other government departments concerned consider that the floor numbers of a building as shown on the plans are not arranged in a logical sequence or the numbering arrangement may cause confusion, the BA would advise the applicant to make appropriate amendments to the plans.
My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) As I mentioned above, section 16 of the BO stipulates the grounds on which the BA may refuse to approve building plans. These provisions do not provide for a ground related to sales brochures. Therefore, in approving the building plans of the development project "Oceanaire", the BA did not consider the contents of the sales brochure. In fact, chronologically, a sales brochure is generally provided for the purpose of property sale (including pre-sale) and does not exist at the time of submission of building plans.
(b) The general building plans of the development project "Oceanaire" were first approved by the BA in December 2007. Subsequently, in July 2009, the BA approved the amendment plans on which the existing floor numbering system was indicated. As the revised Practice Note that I mentioned above had yet to be issued at that time, the BA only assessed the floor numbering system adopted in the project according to the previous Practice Note. In December 2010, the Authorised Person submitted the final amendment plans to the BA. The revised Practice Note had come into effect by then, and it was applicable to the development project. Accordingly, while there was no change to the floor numbering system in the final amendment plans submitted, the BA had made an assessment in accordance with the revised Practice Note.
The site of the development project generally takes the shape of a pot. The floor numbers of all the residential towers in the project are arranged having regard to the geographical conditions of the site. The lowest point of the site is found at its middle part, at which the residential clubhouse is situated. The floor numbers of the residential clubhouse are consecutively designated as the 1/F, 2/F, 3/F and 5/F (with the omission of the 4/F). On the other hand, the six multi-storey residential towers and the 14 houses are distributed on the periphery of the site, with an elevated topography over the middle part of the site. For the six multi-storey residential towers, the first floor on the ground level is designated as the podium floor, and the floors above the flats on the podium floor are consecutively designated as the 5/F to 30/F (with the omission of the 13/F and floor numbers ending with a "4").
According to the building plans submitted by the Authorised Person and already approved, the floor numbers of the development project take consideration of its overall design and are assigned in a consecutive ascending order. Towers 6 and 7 are attached to the residential clubhouse. For these two towers, as the level of the floor above the podium floor is close to the level of the 5/F of the clubhouse, that floor is designated as the 5/F. The floor numbering arrangement adopted in Towers 6 and 7 are applied to other residential towers in the development project (i.e. Towers 1, 2, 3 and 5) so as to achieve consistency and avoid confusion and inconvenience. The floor numbers of the whole development project are arranged as follows: basement, 1/F (clubhouse), podium floor, 2/F (clubhouse), 3/F (clubhouse), 5/F of the six multi-storey residential towers, and 5/F (clubhouse). From the perspective of the whole development project, there is no omission of the 1/F to 3/F.
As regards the nomenclature of "podium floor", while it is a non-numerical name, Authorised Persons, when applying the Practice Note, make use of their professional judgment to consider whether a particular proposal for floor nomenclature is reasonable. In fact, the nomenclature of "podium floor" has been adopted in typical residential buildings in Hong Kong. Besides, in an example of an appropriate floor numbering system as set out in the Practice Note (at Appendix A of the Practice Note), the BA will accept certain non-numerical names as floor nomenclature such as "mezzanine floor" and "podium".
Under the existing centralised processing system for building plans, upon receipt of the building plans for approval, the BA had referred the plans to the relevant government departments for consideration. In this "Oceanaire" case, the relevant departments (including the Fire Services Department) did not raise any comments on the above floor numbering system. After assessing the above factors, the BA considered that the floor numbering system of the development project was acceptable and, therefore, did not advise the applicant to make amendment.
(c) To further enhance the transparency and fairness of the sales arrangements of first-hand residential properties, the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) prepared the proposed legislation on regulating the sale of first-hand residential properties after taking into account the recommendations of the Steering Committee on the Regulation of the Sale of First-hand Residential Properties by Legislation (the Steering Committee). The legislative proposals are primarily based on the recommendations of the Steering Committee. THB conducted a public consultation exercise on the proposed legislation from November 29, 2011 to January 28, 2012. THB received 959 submissions during the public consultation period. THB is considering the views received and will revise the proposed legislation as appropriate.
The proposed legislation requires vendors to prepare sales brochures and sets out the requirements on the information to be included in sales brochures, which includes a location plan of the development, an aerial photo of the development and the floor plans of residential properties in the development. THB is finalising the draft legislation and among other things, a clause will be added to the proposed legislation such that the vendor will be required to provide information on the difference in levels between the lowest residential floor and the ground level for the reference of prospective purchasers, with a view to enhancing consumer protection.
The regulation of the sales of first-hand residential properties is one of the most important tasks of THB. THB will endeavour to introduce the Bill into the Legislative Council in the first-quarter of 2012, and will make every effort to complete the legislative work within the current legislative year.
Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:33