LCQ14: Building Safety

Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (November 1):

Subsequent to a building collapse incident at Ma Tau Wai Road in 2010, the Buildings Department (BD) conducted an inspection on all private buildings aged 50 years or above in the territory, and launched in 2012 the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS). However, in June this year, the balcony of a flat in a 61-year-old building collapsed.  An investigation report on this incident published by BD on the 4th of last month pointed out that declined concrete strength, corrosion of steel reinforcement bars, increase in loading and lack of maintenance were the factors contributing to the collapse of the balcony. It has been reported that alterations were made to the layouts of a number of flats in the building concerned for converting such flats into sub-divided units for letting. Moreover, a property developer has acquired 80 per cent of the property titles of the building concerned and intends to implement a redevelopment project after it has acquired the remaining property titles.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) among the private buildings aged 50 years or above in the territory in respect of which inspections have been conducted by BD or carried out under MBIS, of the respective numbers of those buildings (i) which have been assessed as having danger of collapse and in urgent need of repair, (ii) some flats in which have been partitioned into sub-divided units or undergone unauthorised structural alterations, and (iii) the owners of which have not complied with the statutory orders issued by BD on the building repair works required to be carried out and the number of prosecutions instituted by the authorities against such owners;
(2) as there is no incentive for developers to carry out repair and maintenance works for those old buildings of which they have acquired a majority of the property titles and which are awaiting demolition, whether the authorities have measures in place to step up the monitoring of the state of repair and maintenance of such buildings, so as to prevent collapse of such buildings due to prolonged lack of maintenance; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) whether the authorities have currently put in place a contingency response mechanism to provide prompt assistance to affected residents in the event that a building collapse incident happens; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) whether the authorities will review afresh the existing policies on and procedures for building redevelopments, with a view to expediting redevelopments for old buildings thereby thoroughly addressing the problem of ageing of buildings; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



The Buildings Department (BD) has been adopting a risk-based approach to deal with dilapidated buildings and unauthorised building works (UBWs) systematically. However, building safety problems could not be sustainably and effectively resolved by BD's enforcement actions alone. Owners shall assume responsibility for the safety as well as repair and maintenance of their properties while the Government would provide assistance and support to responsible owners and take enforcement actions against dilapidated or defective buildings and UBWs in an orderly manner.

Regular inspections and timely repairs are crucial and one should not wait until the buildings have become defective or dangerous for taking remedial actions. To strengthen its efforts in dealing with aged buildings and promoting building safety, the BD has fully implemented the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS) since June 30, 2012, which tackles building dilapidation at its root through upholding the concept of "prevention is better than cure". The relevant legislation empowers the BD to issue statutory notices to owners of private buildings aged 30 years or above (except domestic buildings not exceeding three storeys), requiring them to carry out prescribed inspections and, if necessary, prescribed repairs of their buildings. The inspection should cover the external elements, structural elements, fire safety elements, drainage system and UBWs of the buildings.

In consultation with the BD and the Home Affairs Department (HAD), the Development Bureau provides a consolidated reply as follows:

(1) In the past three years (i.e. from 2014 to 2016), the BD:

- issued a total of 2 098 statutory investigation or repair orders for dilapidated or defective buildings, covering 731 buildings aged 50 years or above. During the same period, 2 813 buildings (Note) were repaired or rectified, and the BD instigated a total of 110 prosecutions against non-compliance with statutory investigation or repair orders of which 66 cases were convicted. In respect of the prosecutions cases, the BD does not compile statistics on the age of the buildings involved;

- issued mandatory building inspection notices to a total of 2 697 buildings (covering 1 021 buildings aged 50 years or above). During the same period, among the 935 buildings (Note) with inspection completed (including 400 buildings aged 50 years or above), repair works were required for 840 buildings (including 390 buildings aged 50 years or above); and

- inspected 8 729 sub-divided flats (SDFs) and found 397 cases of unauthorised structural alteration. There were 756 SDFs with irregularities rectified. In respect of these cases, the BD does not compile statistics on the age of the buildings involved.

Note: Relevant figures may not correspond to the statutory investigation orders/ statutory repair orders/ mandatory building inspection notices issued during the same period from 2014 to 2016.

(2) As mentioned above, owners have the responsibility to carry out regular inspections and repairs of their properties and the common parts of the building to ensure building safety.

As far as the work of BD is concerned, the BD has been adopting a multi-pronged approach to tackle the dilapidation and ageing of buildings. Apart from the aforementioned MBIS, the BD follows up public reports on individual cases of defective buildings and issues statutory orders requiring owners to carry out investigations or repairs to properly deal with such problems.

In addition, through large scale operations, the BD proactively selects target buildings for taking actions against dilapidated or defective buildings and UBWs. Statutory orders will be issued to require owners to carry out investigations and repair works if necessary.

Owners who fail to comply with statutory mandatory building inspection notices, investigation orders, repair orders, as well as UBW removal orders will be prosecuted. In case the condition of the building or UBW constitutes imminent danger, the BD may appoint consultants and Government contractors to carry out building inspections, investigation, repair and removal works related to the statutory orders/notices in the owners' default and the costs of the works, supervision charges and surcharges will be recovered from the owners upon completion of the works.

(3) The BD has put in place established mechanism and procedures to handle building-related emergencies including arranging professional officers to stand by duty during both office and non-office hours. Upon receiving reports of building-related emergencies, the duty officers will go to the scene promptly for follow-up actions including on-site assessment of the building safety condition, devising emergency remedial actions or temporary support proposals for the building, mobilising Government contractors to carry out emergency demolition or strengthening works, and applying to the court for emergency closure orders if warranted to ensure building and public safety. The established mechanism also includes notifications to relevant departments, such as the Fire Services Department, the Hong Kong Police Force, the HAD and the Transport Department, etc.  Emergency responses and assistance will be given by the BD to these departments according to the respective functions of the departments so as to ensure public safety and mitigate impacts of emergency incidents on residents and the general public.

Under the Government emergency response system, the HAD, being the disaster relief coordinator, will coordinate disaster relief efforts with other Government departments at the local level through District Officers. The respective District Office (DO) will provide suitable relief services at the scene to meet the needs of people affected, such as setting up inter-departmental help desks, making on-the-spot registration, and opening temporary shelters for accommodating the homeless victims. The DO will also provide the victims with daily necessities in collaboration with relevant Government departments, or refer cases to the relevant departments such as Housing Department and Social Welfare Department for provision of housing and other types of assistance. Moreover, relief funds will be granted to the registered victims as necessary to meet their imminent needs.

(4) In accordance with the Urban Renewal Strategy promulgated in February 2011, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) would focus its resources on taking forward urban renewal by way of "Redevelopment" and "Rehabilitation". To explore more effective ways of addressing the urban decay problem, URA has commenced in May 2017 a district planning study on a pilot basis for Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok (Yau Mong District Planning Study), which have a high concentration of old buildings. The Yau Mong District Planning Study aims to explore ways of enhancing the efficiency of existing land use and the redevelopment potential in the two districts. The findings would serve as the basis for URA to identify more effective and efficient ways for urban renewal as well as practical and feasible ideas and modus operandi for adoption in other districts and the work strategy of urban renewal in future. URA has also commenced in August 2017 a study on building rehabilitation strategies to formulate appropriate and sustainable measures to prolong the life span of buildings.  
Ends/Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:30