Following is a question by the Hon Ronny Tong and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 7):
Recently, quite a number of owners of village houses in the New Territories have sought my assistance, and expressed grave concern about the existing policy on village houses (in particular the policy on unauthorised building works). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that some owners of village houses have told me that when owners submit the reporting form under the "Reporting Scheme for Unauthorised Building Works in New Territories Exempted Houses" introduced by the Buildings Department in April 2012, they are required to submit at the same time a safety certification issued by a competent person to prove that the building was safe, and since some owners cannot afford the high fees charged by such competent persons, they will not take the initiative to make the reports, whether the Government will exempt owners of village houses from submitting the safety certification, offer financial assistance to owners who have financial difficulties, or revise the requirement to have such certification provided by government experts instead; if it will not, of the reasons for that;
(b) given that some owners of village houses have indicated that the existing legislation stipulating that small houses "may not exceed three storeys or be of a height of more than 8.23 metres (i.e. 27 feet) and their roofed-over area generally should not exceed 65.03 square metres (i.e. 700 square feet)" has restricted owners from adding fixed green features of a larger scale (e.g. ground floor canopies with pillars or canopies projecting from the external walls of village houses which can insulate against heat and thus reduce the use of air-conditioners), whether the authorities will consider relaxing the restrictions to allow owners to add such green features; if they will not, of the reasons for that; and
(c) given that the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance (Cap. 121), which regulates small houses, has been in operation for a long time, whether the Government will consider making any amendments to it; if it will, of the specific time to do so and the particulars; if not, the reasons for that?
For years, the problem of unauthorised building works (UBWs) in New Territories (NT) village houses has been a matter of much public concern. In tackling this problem, our objective is to safeguard building and public safety and to act in accordance with the law. On this premise, and taking also into account past experience in tackling UBWs as well as the views from different sectors, the Administration put forward at the meeting of the Legislative Council Panel on Development held on June 28, 2011 a pragmatic approach in tackling existing UBWs in NT village houses through categorisation of UBWs and prioritisation of enforcement. That enforcement policy has been implemented since April 1, 2012.
Under the new enforcement policy, while the Buildings Department (BD) would continue to take immediate enforcement against UBWs constituting obvious hazard or imminent danger to life or property and UBWs under construction or newly completed, it would also categorise UBWs constituting serious contravention of the law and posing higher potential risks to building safety as first round targets for progressive enforcement.
In parallel, BD has launched the Reporting Scheme for UBWs in NT village houses (the Reporting Scheme) for other existing UBWs in NT village houses which constitute less serious contravention of the law and pose lower potential risks. Owners of village houses may, within the specified reporting period, submit to BD for registration information including photos, descriptions, sizes and completion dates of existing UBWs which were completed before June 28, 2011 and not included in the list of first round targets, and on which no enforcement action had been commenced by BD before June 28, 2011. Subject to safety inspection and certification by a technically competent person of grade T2 (Note: A T2 competent person means a person who possesses a higher diploma or higher certificate in the civil/structural engineering, building studies, building technology, building surveying, architectural studies or similar field, awarded by universities funded by the University Grants Committee, or by the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education or the former Technical Institutes under the Technical Colleges which are approved and/or recognised by the Vocational Training Council and with a total relevant working experience of not less than three years.) or above once every five years after the first inspection and certification, BD will not require removal of the registered UBWs during the period of enforcement against the first round targets, and the owners are allowed to retain these UBWs for the time being unless they become imminently dangerous. Upon expiry of the reporting period, BD will take priority enforcement action against those UBWs which have not been reported.
To facilitate smooth and effective implementation of the new enforcement policy, BD has conducted several rounds of publicity and public education through direct mailing, briefing sessions and various publicity avenues targeted at fostering village house owners' awareness of building safety, as well as strengthening their understanding of the enforcement policy.
My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) Under the Reporting Scheme, owners of village houses may report to BD on or before December 31, 2012, details of their eligible existing UBWs. To allow ample time for necessary arrangements, owners of village houses are not required to submit safety certification at the time of reporting details of UBWs. They may appoint qualified personnel to inspect the structures concerned and submit the first safety certification to BD within six months after reporting. However, to facilitate owners, they are free to submit the first safety certification together with the UBWs reports as they wish.
The Reporting Scheme mainly covers minor UBWs which constitute less serious contravention of the law and pose lower potential risks. Hence, in normal circumstances, a technically competent person of grade T2 is generally competent in inspecting and certifying the safety of such kinds of structures. However, for UBWs which involve more complex structural elements which require special attention, e.g. cantilevered slab balconies, owners are required to appoint a registered professional engineer to conduct the inspections and submit safety certification.
The requirement of safety inspection and certification aims at ensuring that the UBWs concerned would meet the basic requirements in respect of building and public safety during the period of deferred enforcement. Therefore, we will not consider exempting the requirement for safety inspection and certification.
In general, the safety inspection and certification fees depend on the quantity, size and structural complexity of the UBWs involved. The level of fees is determined by the market mechanism, subject to mutual discussions and negotiations between the owners and the appointed technicians or professionals.
To promote market competition, BD has worked with the relevant professional bodies and organisations to encourage participation of the practitioners in providing services of safety inspection and certification of UBWs. BD collaborates with these professional bodies and organisations in uploading information of qualified personnel to the internet, in order to provide useful reference for the public and facilitate their procurement of the needed services at reasonable market prices. The Administration has no intention to take over the role of the private sector in providing such services. Given that it is the responsibility of the owners to keep their buildings in proper maintenance, including the handling of UBWs, the Administration has no plan to subsidise the safety inspection and certification of UBWs.
(b) The Administration fully appreciates that, with the advancement of society, there are rising aspirations among the public for improving their living environment and the level of comfort. Some environmental and amenity facilities are reasonable daily necessities for people living in village houses. Installation of these facilities does not only improve villagers' living environment, but is also in line with the Government's policy of promoting the use of green facilities. Hence, at the time the enhanced enforcement policy against UBWs in village houses was announced on June 28, 2011, we also promulgated a list of specified green and amenity facilities which are exempted. The list includes a wide range of facilities, including metal supporting racks for air-conditioners, drying racks, retractable canopies, external metal window grilles, small antennas or television dish antennas, small solar energy heaters or solar energy equipment, unenclosed rooftop awnings, open and uncovered rooftop gardening trellises, etc. Under the new enforcement policy, these green and amenity facilities are allowed to stay or be installed at any time in future without the need for seeking the permission from the relevant departments.
(c) The Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123) governs the planning, design and construction of buildings and the associated works in Hong Kong. When the BO was enacted in 1955, its application was confined to "Hong Kong, Aplichau, Kowloon and New Kowloon". Since January 1, 1961, the BO has been applied to the NT in the manner provided by the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance (then Cap. 322, replaced by Cap. 121 in 1987).
The Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance provides that, after obtaining a Certificate of Exemption issued by the Director of Lands, a village house which meets specified standards would be exempt from certain provisions of the BO and the regulations made under the BO. The Administration has amended the BO and the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance from time to time to meet changing circumstances. To ensure building and public safety, the Administration has no plans to amend the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance at the moment. However, the Administration will continue to monitor the implementation of the Ordinance regularly and would propose amendments to the Ordinance when necessary.
Ends/Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:30