Following is a question by the Hon Kwong Chun-yu and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Eric Ma, in the Legislative Council today (June 21):
It has been reported that several government departments have recently set up interdepartmental teams and invoked land lease conditions, the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance and fire safety legislation to take vigorous enforcement actions against the cultural, arts and sports activities (e.g. performances staged by foreign bands) conducted in industrial building units. Quite a number of cultural, arts and sports groups have pointed out that such enforcement actions run contrary to the policy direction put forward earlier by the authorities that restrictions be appropriately relaxed to allow non-industrial uses in industrial buildings for better utilisation of the existing spaces in industrial buildings, and have thus made industrial building users feel confused. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of enforcement actions targeting industrial building units which were taken individually and jointly by various government departments in the past three years, together with a breakdown of the cases of irregularities by the irregularity and District Council district involved; among such cases of irregularities, the percentage of those in which cultural, arts and sports groups were involved;
(2) as the authorities have stressed that cultural, arts and sports activities involve the general public and a higher visitor flow, and therefore there is a need to prudently evaluate the safety hazard which may be brought about by such activities, whether the authorities will issue guidelines to define clearly the meaning of "higher visitor flow" and the fire safety standards that such activities are required to meet; as the authorities stated in April this year that they would examine the further optimisation of the use of the existing industrial buildings for conducting various activities and providing more spaces for cultural, arts and sports activity purposes, of the progress, summary and timetable of such work; and
(3) given that the authorities have, since 2015, amended more than 10 Outline Zoning Plans (OZPs) to include "Art Studio" as an always permitted use in industrial-office buildings located in "Industrial", "Other Specified Uses" annotated "Business" and "Residential (Group E)" zones, of the authorities' timetable for amending other OZPs and whether they will expedite the amendment exercise; whether the authorities will grant temporary waivers to owners who have converted their industrial building units into art studios and exempt these owners from the payment of waiver fees; if not, of the reasons for that?
Industrial land, including that for industrial buildings, provides space to support the sustainable development of Hong Kong's diversified economy. That said, in considering ways of relaxing restrictions on non-industrial uses in industrial buildings, one of the most important considerations is whether the relevant measures would constitute significant safety risk. The Government cannot compromise public safety for accommodating individual industries. As a matter of fact, industrial buildings are not the only option for the arts and cultural sectors. From the public safety point of view, industrial buildings are not the appropriate option for some of the activities of these sectors or industries involving public visitor flow.
As the policy bureau responsible for land-use planning and land resources, the Development Bureau has been supporting, through planning and other measures, the policy objectives of other relevant bureaux in the areas of culture, arts and sports. Having consulted the Home Affairs Bureau and the Security Bureau, my reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(1) Relevant information on the enforcement actions in industrial building units by various government departments are set out at Annex.
(2) and (3) In general, there are industrial activities taking place in industrial buildings, and these activities carry a much higher risk of fire and other accidents than commercial and other activities. In addition, industrial activities often involve the loading and unloading, storage and use of dangerous goods, which further increase the fire risk. If activities attracting members of the public (such as direct provision of service or sale of merchandise) take place in industrial buildings, patrons may not be aware of the industrial activities inside the industrial buildings and the potential risks involved, nor do they know how to evacuate from industrial buildings. Moreover, they may share the buildings' common areas with people carrying out industrial activities, thus exposing themselves to a significantly higher risk in case of fires or other emergencies (e.g. leakage of dangerous goods).
As far as applications for changing the use of industrial buildings to non-industrial uses are concerned, if there is a buffer floor (e.g. car park, electrical and mechanical plant room, or an empty floor for refuge use) in an industrial building completely separating the lower floors from the upper portion where industrial uses may continue to be present, the Government may accept converting the premises on lower floors (not exceeding three storeys) to other non-industrial uses, including arts, cultural and sports activities.
On July 15, 2016, the Lands Department (LandsD) announced the risk-based enforcement arrangements against lease breaches in industrial buildings, targeting units in breach of the lease matching two conditions: (i) there are other premises in the same industrial building currently issued with Licences for Manufacture and/or Storage of Dangerous Goods by the Fire Services Department; and (ii) the uses attract the flow of people. The relevant arrangements aim at handling with priority cases posing a high risk through a stringent approach, in order to protect the safety of members of the public accessing the units. The target is not to strike a blow against any individual industry.
When it comes to defining the flow of people, the LandsD is aware of the difficulty in defining generally "relatively higher visitor flow". For example, a situation involving children or the elderly will be different from that involving adults who are physically agile. At present, the Government is basically against any flow of public visitors in industrial buildings, and not only activities that will attract a large number of public visitors to industrial buildings.
Owners intending to use their premises in industrial buildings for uses other than those permitted under the lease may apply to the respective District Lands Offices (DLOs) under the LandsD for a temporary waiver or lease modification. In processing the applications, DLOs will consult the relevant departments. If the intended use complies with the requirements of the town plans and/or obtains the necessary planning permission, DLOs will, depending on the comments received, consider in the capacity of the landlord whether to issue a temporary waiver or modify the lease conditions to approve the use. If the application is approved, the applicant will have to pay a waiver fee/land premium and an administrative fee, and accept other terms and conditions stipulated.
On the basis of relevant policy objectives, the Government may consider introducing a fee exemption/fee concessionary scheme for individual industries or specified uses to facilitate the conversion of an industrial lot or an existing industrial building to specified uses, on the prerequisite that the premises concerned must fulfil the government requirements in planning, fire safety and building safety.
To allow more flexibility in the use of industrial buildings, the scope of uses that are always permitted in these buildings in the "Industrial" ("I") zone has been expanded since 2001 regarding activities of the arts, cultural and creative industries that do not involve direct provision of services and goods. The expanded scope allows creative industries and music-related uses such as audio-visual recording studio, design and media production. However, because of fire safety considerations the uses concerned should not involve direct provision of customer services or goods. In addition, as at mid-June 2017, a total of 15 outline zoning plans (OZPs) have been amended to include "Art Studio (excluding those involving direct provision of services or goods)" as an always permitted use in industrial and industrial-office buildings in "I", "Other Specified Uses" annotated "Business" and "Residential (Group E)" zones. Similarly, such art studios should not involve direct provision of services or goods due to fire safety concerns. Similar amendments would be made to other OZPs in future when opportunities arise. Furthermore, on June 16, 2017 the Town Planning Board agreed to make corresponding amendments to the Master Schedule of Notes to Statutory Plans, which will serve as a clearer guide to future amendments to other OZPs.
The government departments concerned will continue to explore possible ways of relaxing the use of industrial buildings under the precondition of compliance with the law and public safety requirements. Previous measures for revitalising industrial buildings mainly sought to relax the restrictions on the use of the whole building (rather than individual floors or flats) with a view to a more effective utilisation of land resources in Hong Kong, and an important consideration has been whether the proposed measures would constitute significant public safety and fire risk. Similarly, when exploring further relaxation for activities involving direct provision of services or goods in industrial buildings, public safety will definitely be an important consideration.
Ends/Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:06