Following is a question by the Hon Vincent Fang and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (January 6):
According to the Validation Scheme for Unauthorised Signboards (Validation Scheme), existing unauthorised signboards that meet the technical specifications for signboards under the minor works items may be validated and, upon validation, their continued use will be allowed. Validated signboards will not be subject to the law enforcement actions of the Buildings Department (BD). The validation procedures under the Validation Scheme include safety inspection, strengthening (if necessary) and certification of unauthorised signboards by prescribed building professionals or prescribed registered contractors (the appointed persons). On the other hand, some ground floor shop owners in Sheung Wan sought my assistance recently as BD had issued orders to them demanding the removal of the unauthorised signboards on the exterior walls of their shops within a specified period of time, and those signboards were in fact security fixtures used for concealing the roller shutters of their shops. Those shop owners planned to join the Validation Scheme in order to obtain permission for retaining such fixtures, but all of the appointed persons had indicated that they had no time to undertake the validation, which made them feel very helpless. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether BD has compiled statistics on the number of fixtures in the territory which are used for concealing roller shutters; if BD has, of the number; if not, whether it will compile such statistics expeditiously;
(2) of the current number of unauthorised signboards in respect of which BD has issued removal orders and, among them, the number of which have not been removed upon expiry of the deadline; whether the authorities will conduct territory-wide operations to remove unauthorised signboards; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether the security needs of shops will be taken into account when BD considers issuing orders to remove unauthorised signboards;
(3) of the number of cases in which prosecutions were instituted by BD in the past three years against owners of fixtures used for concealing roller shutters who had failed to remove those fixtures pursuant to BD's orders, as well as the number of conviction cases among them;
(4) of the number of validation applications received by the authorities since the implementation of the Validation Scheme in September 2013, the respective numbers of cases which have passed the validation and those which have not, as well as the reasons for some cases not passing the validation; whether the authorities have assessed the effectiveness of the Scheme; if they have, of the outcome; and
(5) of the number of qualified appointed persons under the Validation Scheme; whether the authorities have assessed the adequacy of the number of appointed persons; for those cases in which owners of the unauthorised signboards are unable to join the Validation Scheme due to the unavailability of appointed persons to undertake the validation, whether BD will grant the relevant signboard owners a grace period during which law enforcement actions will be withheld; if BD will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Buildings Department (BD) strives to ensure public safety by enhancing the regulation of signboards. Among others, the full implementation of the Minor Works Control System (MWCS) since December 31, 2010 enables signboard owners to erect, alter or remove certain types of signboards which are relatively small in scale and pose less potential risk in accordance with simplified requirements. Furthermore, in view of the large number of existing unauthorised signboards, BD launched the Validation Scheme for Unauthorised Signboards (VSUS) in September 2013 for signboard owners to validate their unauthorised signboards. VSUS allows the continued use of signboards erected before September 2, 2013 that meet the prescribed technical specifications after safety inspection, strengthening (if necessary) and certification by prescribed building professionals and/or prescribed registered contractors. Signboard owners however will need to make fresh validation submissions or remove the signboards at intervals of not more than five years. The validated signboards remain to be unauthorised building works. However, BD will not take enforcement action against validated signboards unless they become dangerous.
My reply to the five-part question is as follows:
(a) and (c) BD has not kept statistics on fixtures which are used for concealing roller shutters, including figures on related unauthorised works. As the data may not directly assist BD in its work, it has no plan to compile such statistics.
(b) Currently, there are about 120 000 signboards in Hong Kong, a considerable part of which are believed to be unauthorised. In view of the large number of unauthorised signboards, apart from taking immediate enforcement action against unauthorised signboards which are dangerous, under construction or newly-erected, BD will take enforcement actions against existing unauthorised signboards through large scale operations (LSOs) at different sections of target streets. To this end, BD set up the Signboard Control Unit in January 2014 to centrally handle unauthorised signboards and launched a pilot LSO in May 2014 on a section of Fuk Wing Street in Sham Shui Po, during which removal orders were issued against unauthorised signboards which had not joined or were ineligible for joining VSUS. BD extended such LSOs in 2015 to sections of streets in five districts, namely Central and Western District, Wan Chai, Sham Shui Po, Yau Tsim Mong and Kowloon City, and will further extend them to sections of streets in six districts, namely Hong Kong East, Mong Kok, Sheung Shui, Tseun Wan, Wan Chai and Yau Tsim Mong in 2016. As at November 2015, BD had issued 1 009 removal orders against unauthorised signboards, involving 1 386 unauthorised signboards, of which 667 orders, involving 953 unauthorised signboards, had not been complied with. BD will issue warning letters and instigate prosecutions, if necessary, to signboard owners who fail to comply with the orders. Furthermore, if the signboards become dangerous, BD will engage government contractors to carry out the required works in the owners' default and recover the cost of such works plus supervision charge and surcharge from the owners afterwards.
Upon being issued the removal orders by BD, signboard owners have to remove the unauthorised signboards within a specified period of time. Signboard owners may carry out the related works in suitably having regard to security and other needs within the period. If signboard owners encounter difficulties in complying with the removal orders, they may submit a written application to BD with justifications and reasons for extension of time. BD will consider each case based on its individual merits.
(d) Since the implementation of VSUS on September 2, 2013, BD had received 362 validation applications up to November 2015, among which, 112 applications were accepted, 93 applications were being processed, 142 applications could not be processed because the applicants had failed to provide the required information and 15 applications were withdrawn by the applicants voluntarily. BD is now conducting a review for VSUS to evaluate its effectiveness.
At the same time, BD notices that many signboard owners have not applied for validation but choose to remove and re-erect signboards under MWCS instead. According to BD's record, minor works associated with signboards have significantly increased from around 3 000 cases (i.e. an average of about 95 per month) in 32 months before the implementation of VSUS (i.e. from December 31, 2010 to September 1, 2013) to more than 11 300 cases (i.e. an average of about 420 per month) after the implementation of VSUS (i.e. from September 2, 2013 to November 30, 2015).
(e) At present, there are about 13 000 prescribed building professionals or prescribed registered contractors who are qualified to carry out validation for existing unauthorised signboards, including Authorised Persons, Registered Structural Engineers, Registered Inspectors, Registered General Building Contractors, Registered Minor Works Contractors (Company) and Registered Minor Works Contractors (Individual), which should be adequate to meet the market need. The registers of the prescribed building professionals and prescribed registered contractors have been uploaded to the website of BD for public inspection.
If signboard owners encounter difficulties in finding appropriate building professionals or registered contractors and thus are unable to join VSUS, they may submit a written application to BD with justifications and reasons. BD will consider each case based on its individual merits.
Ends/Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:32