Following is a question by the Hon Albert Ho and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (May 29):
Some members of the public have relayed to me that the Chief Executive (CE) has yet to give a direct account of the whole story concerning the unauthorised building works (UBWs) in his mansion on Peel Rise (Peel Rise mansion) since such UBWs were uncovered in June last year, when he was about to assume the office of CE; and the way in which the Buildings Department (BD) handles this case is different from that for handling the UBWs uncovered in a mansion on York Road (York Road mansion) which belongs to another candidate who stood in the 2012 CE Election, thus causing members of the public to suspect that the authorities have been selective in taking law enforcement actions. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) as it has been reported that the Director of Buildings indicated on May 7 this year that the UBWs in the Peel Rise mansion had been demolished, the underground space had been dealt with, and the space beneath the parking space had also been filled up, and yet the Chief Executive's Office mentioned in reply to press enquiries on the following day that CE was still discussing the remedial proposal with BD in respect of the unlawfully constructed enclosed area of some 200 square feet on the lower ground floor of the Peel Rise mansion, whether the situation referred to by the Director is the actual situation at present; which of the UBWs in the Peel Rise mansion have yet to be demolished and restored to the original structure;
(b) as CE had already indicated at the end of November last year that he would discuss with BD the way to handle the unlawfully constructed enclosed area in the Peel Rise mansion mentioned in (a), whether BD and CE have already reached a consensus in respect of the remedial proposal for the said UBW so far; if they have not, whether it has assessed the causes for this situation, and whether it is attributable to dereliction of duty on the part of BD staff or the property owner being uncooperative in the case; of the number of times BD has contacted the property owner to discuss the remedial proposal for the said UBW, and what the replies given by the property owner are; and
(c) given that BD issued summons in February this year to prosecute the agent of the owner of the York Road mansion and the authorised persons appointed by her for carrying out unlawful building works, and to prosecute the said authorised persons for misrepresentation, whether the authorities are adopting the same standard in handling the case involving the UBWs in the Peel Rise mansion; if they are not, of the reasons for that?
The Government attaches great importance to building safety. In handling unauthorised building works (UBWs), the Buildings Department (BD) has been following the principle of acting in accordance with the law and being impartial to all to take appropriate actions pursuant to the Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123) and the prevailing enforcement policy. In respect of each case involving UBWs, BD will take appropriate enforcement actions in an impartial manner, without making any special arrangements because of the identity of the owner.
I would like to take this opportunity to point out to Members once again that the prevailing established procedures of BD for handling UBW cases involving senior Government officials and celebrities is mainly embodied in the carrying out of priority inspection with the objective of ascertaining as soon as possible whether the suspected UBWs exist so as to clear any public concerns. This procedure was introduced in mid 2011. At that time, noting that suspected UBW cases involving senior Government officials and celebrities reported by the media had aroused public concerns, the Development Bureau decided that BD should accord priority to carry out site inspection in respect of this kind of cases so as to clear any public concerns as soon as possible. BD will impartially carry out post-inspection enforcement procedures including investigation and enforcement in accordance with the BO and the prevailing enforcement policy on UBWs, and will not be particularly stringent or lenient in its enforcement actions because the owner is a senior Government official or celebrity. In respect of the UBW case of Houses 4 and 5 of Peel Rise No. 4, BD has been taking follow-up action in accordance with the above-mentioned established procedures for handling UBW cases involving senior Government officials and celebrities.
Regarding the unauthorised floor space on the lower ground floor of House 4 of Peel Rise No.4 mentioned in the question, the owner issued a statement on Friday, November 23, 2012, which included information on that floor space and the sealing up by a brick wall. BD conducted on-site inspection on the first working day that followed (i.e. Monday, November 26), and immediately requested the authorised person (AP) appointed by the owner to provide information and arrange for the opening up of that wall as soon as possible for detailed inspection. During BD's site inspection on November 29 (Thursday), an opening had been made in the wall, and BD staff identified that there was an extended floor space of about 30 square metre behind the wall. After inspection and assessment, BD confirmed that the floor space concerned was an "actionable" UBW and issued an advisory letter to the owner on December 3 (Monday), advising him to rectify the irregularities as soon as possible.
My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) & (b) In respect of the unauthorised floor space on the lower ground floor of House 4 of Peel Rise No. 4, further to the issue of an advisory letter by BD on December 3, 2012 advising the owner to rectify the irregularities as soon as possible, the AP appointed by the owner submitted a remedial proposal to BD on December 4, 2012. BD studied the proposal in detail and provided comments. Subsequently, the AP has submitted a number of revised proposals having regard to BD's comments. BD has also written to the AP for a number of times, copying to the owner, providing comments on the revised proposals and requesting the AP to submit relevant information for consideration. During the vetting process, BD has arranged a number of meetings with the AP to discuss technical details, mainly including the structural safety of the proposed remedial works and measures to prevent re-use of the void space concerned. According to the latest position, the AP submitted the latest revised proposal in early April this year and supplementary information later. BD has provided comments on the revised proposal and supplementary information. BD will continue to follow up with the AP appointed by the owner in accordance with the BO. The owner can only commence the works after BD has accepted the remedial proposal.
Other "actionable" UBWs under the prevailing enforcement policy in Houses 4 and 5 have been removed. As regards the unauthorised floor space at the garden level beneath the parking space at House 5, the remedial works has been completed. The space was backfilled with concrete and the access opening was sealed up to make the use of such void space difficult.
(c) The policy and stance all along adopted by BD in its enforcement work against UBWs is to require the owner to rectify the irregularities as soon as possible. Under normal circumstances, unless BD has obtained concrete information showing that registered persons under the BO are suspected to be involved in the erection of UBWs or that the registered persons knowingly submit misrepresented documents to BD, BD will not conduct criminal investigation lightly on whether there have been contraventions to the BO. We must stress that in handling UBW cases involving senior Government officials and celebrities (including the York Road and Peel Rise cases mentioned in the question), same as other cases, BD will impartially determine the required follow-up action in accordance with this established principle. The identity of the owner is not a factor for BD to consider whether to conduct criminal investigation.
Ends/Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Issued at HKT 12:55