Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (October 17):
Some owners of old buildings who participated in the "Operation Building Bright" (the Operation) or similar schemes have indicated that shortly after the completion of maintenance works of their buildings, they received fire safety improvement directions and fire safety compliance orders (directions and orders) issued under the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) and the Buildings Department's statutory notices for inspecting buildings and windows. While the former requires owners to install facilities such as fire services sprinkler systems and fire services water tanks, the latter requires owners to appoint Qualified Persons to inspect and repair their buildings. Such owners have pointed out that the objectives of the two measures are almost identical to those of the Operation in enhancing building structure and fire safety, and generally speaking, upon completion of works under the Operation, the buildings concerned should be able to comply with the relevant statutory requirements. They have pointed out that owners have to pay maintenance fees for three times because the same item of works are enforced by the authorities on three occasions, and such an arrangement is not acceptable to them. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has investigated if the aforesaid situations are true; if the outcome of the investigation is in the affirmative, why some of the buildings with building maintenance works financed by the Operation already completed still failed to comply with the statutory requirements; if the outcome of the investigation is in the negative, whether the authorities will consider re-launching the Operation to help owners of old buildings who have never applied for any similar schemes or grants to repair their buildings, so that they will not be prosecuted by the authorities for their failure to comply with the aforesaid orders and statutory notices;
(b) given that the aforesaid affected owners have indicated that most of them are elderly people who have received the grants for repair works under the Operation, and they can no longer afford to pay additional maintenance expenses, whether the authorities have other schemes or grants to help them solve the aforesaid maintenance problems;
(c) of the measures put in place by the authorities to minimise the inconvenience caused to the residents by the arrangements made by the aforesaid government departments; and
(d) of the number of directions and orders issued to owners of old buildings who have completed works under the Operation, broken down by District Council districts?
The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (the FS(B)O) came into effect on July 1, 2007. It aims to ensure that the fire safety of composite and domestic buildings completed on or before March 1, 1987 would be enhanced to better meet the requirements of today's society. The Buildings Department (BD) is the enforcement department of the FS(B)O on the fire safety measures in terms of the planning, design and construction of buildings, whereas fire service installations or equipment fall under the purview of the Fire Services Department (FSD). Since the FS(B)O came into effect, BD and FSB have been conducting joint inspections on target buildings, and issuing Fire Safety Directions (FS Directions) to owners and occupiers to enhance basic fire protection measures.
In May 2009, the Government, in collaboration with the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), launched "Operation Building Bright" (the Operation) to provide subsidies and one-stop technical assistance to help owners of old and dilapidated buildings to carry out repair and maintenance works. The one-off Operation aims to achieve the dual objectives of creating more job opportunities for the construction sector amidst the financial tsunami as well as improving safety and maintenance of old buildings and the cityscape. The Operation assists buildings aged 30 years or above and meeting the prescribed eligibility criteria.
On the other hand, BD fully implemented the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS) and the Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme (MWIS) on June 30, 2012 to handle the problem of building neglect at source. The MBIS and the MWIS cover all private buildings aged 30 years or above and 10 years or above respectively, except domestic buildings not exceeding three storeys in height. Under the MBIS, building owners are required, within a specified timeframe, to carry out a prescribed inspection and a prescribed repair found necessary of the common parts, external walls, projections and signboards of the building once every 10 years. Under the MWIS, building owners are required, within a specified timeframe, to carry out a prescribed inspection and a prescribed repair found necessary of the windows in the building once every 5 years. To facilitate owners, buildings selected for the MBIS will also be selected for the MWIS under the same cycle so that owners can carry out inspection and repair works under both schemes concurrently.
To enable owners to carry out improvement works for fire safety facilities concurrently when undertaking building repair to meet the requirements of the FS(B)O, and avoid owners having to carry out repair works under the FS(B)O or the MBIS and the MWIS shortly after the completion of building repair, BD and FSD will take measures according to different situations to facilitate owners as far as possible.
My reply to the four-part question is as follows:
(a) and (c) Under the Operation, the grant must first be used on repair and maintenance works in the common areas of target buildings relating to structural and fire safety as well as sanitary facilities (first priority items), including repair of building structure, repair of external walls, repair or replacement of defective windows, repair of building sanitary services, and repair of defective fire safety construction and fire service installations and equipment. After covering the cost of the above works, any remaining grant may be used for additional repair and improvement works in the common areas (the second priority items), including removal of unauthorised building works, improvement of fire safety construction and fire service installations and equipment, improvement of building services and facilities, maintenance or improvement works for slopes and retaining walls, and repair of water-proofing membranes and works to alleviate water seepage problems. All the repair works must fulfill the statutory requirements.
Owners participating in the Operation may determine their priority items having regard to the actual conditions and needs of their buildings as well as the cost of works that they can afford. Therefore, the completed items under the Operation may vary from buildings to buildings. Besides, such items may not fulfill the requirements of enhancement of fire safety construction and fire service installations and equipment under the FS(B)O or the various prescribed inspections and prescribed repair under the MBIS and the MWIS.
As mentioned above, we have put in place measures to facilitate owners as far as possible. For target buildings approved under the Operation, BD will issue pre-notification letters to the owners/owners' corporations (OCs) to alert them and the occupants to the compliance with the FS(B)O, so that they may concurrently carry out the required fire safety improvement works and make full use of the subsidies of the Operation.
As for the MBIS and the MWIS, BD takes into account a number of factors when selecting target buildings, including their repair records. In general, if repair works have been carried out on the common areas and external walls of a building in recent years under the supervision of an authorised person in compliance with the BD's statutory repair order, BD will not select the building for the MBIS and the MWIS within a certain period after the completion of the repair works. Moreover, if a building has repair works completed or being carried out under the Operation, BD will not select it for the MBIS and the MWIS in the near future. In fact, when selecting the first quarterly batch of target buildings for the MBIS and the MWIS in June this year, BD has, based on its records, excluded buildings that have repair works completed or being carried out under the Operation. However, buildings that have just completed repair and maintenance works may still be selected for the MBIS and the MWIS if the BD does not have their repair records. Owners in these cases may contact BD to provide information about the repair works of their buildings completed in recent years. BD will consider deferring the issue of statutory notices under the MBIS and the MWIS to these buildings on a case-by-case basis.
Furthermore, in order that the various inspection, repair and improvement works under the FS(B)O, the MBIS and the MWIS can be carried out in one go, BD will, in the pre-notification letters to be issued to target buildings selected for the MBIS and the MWIS, advise the owners/OCs concerned to carry out concurrently all building services inspections and repair works as required by other government departments, including the works required under the FS(B)O for improving fire safety construction and fire service installations or equipment. In this connection, if buildings that have been selected for the MBIS and the MWIS are due for the implementation of fire safety improvement works as required by law enforcement departments, or if the owners so request, BD and FSD will arrange the issue of FS Directions to the buildings within the period of the MBIS and the MWIS notices.
Owners have the responsibility over timely repair and maintenance of their buildings, which is also a continuous work for the owners. As a specific measure for "Preserving Jobs" amidst the financial tsunami, the Operation at a total commitment of $3.5 billion is a special one-off programme with an aim to achieving the dual objectives of creating more job opportunities for the construction sector and improving building safety and the cityscape. We have no plan to launch a new round of the Operation at this moment. BD, HKHS and URA will continue to render technical and financial support to building owners to enhance building repair and maintenance works through their other existing schemes, including the "Integrated Building Maintenance Assistance Scheme"(IBMAS), "Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners"(BMGSEO) and "Building Safety Loan Scheme"(BSLS), etc.
(b) To dovetail with the implementation of the MBIS, HKHS and URA have launched the "Mandatory Building Inspection Subsidy Scheme" to subsidise eligible owners the cost of the first building inspection under the MBIS (subject to a cap), and to provide technical support to owners. A summary of the subsidy scheme is at Annex A. The subsidy scheme started receiving applications on October 12, 2012.
As for the repair works found necessary according to the inspection, the Government, together with HKHS and URA, will continue to provide financial assistance under the various existing schemes, including IBMAS jointly administered by HKHS and URA, BSLS administered by BD, and BMGSEO administered by HKHS. In line with the spirit of provision of "one-stop" service, owners can make multiple applications covering various types of grants/loans in the above schemes by simply completing one set of application forms under IBMAS. A summary of these schemes is at Annex B. Besides, fire safety works pertaining to the FS(B)O have been incorporated into the scope of these schemes.
(d) With the above measures in place, there should not be cases where a building with works recently completed under the Operation still received FS Directions issued by BD and FSD. We do not have the relevant statistics.
Ends/Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:30