Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 18):
I have received a complaint from a resident in Fung Yuen Village of Tai Po pointing out that as his home is encircled by small houses built one after another in recent years, he has to seek the consent of the owners of the nearby houses to pass through their private lots in order to go out of and back to his own home, which causes him great inconvenience. I visited the place concerned with staff of the Tai Po District Lands Office, and found that what he had complained was true. In reply to my enquiry, the Tai Po District Lands Office advised that as the above case involved private land ownership, the Office was not in a position to intervene. In addition, under the new Fire Safety Requirements implemented by the Government with effect from July 1, 2006, if less than 10 houses are located within a circle with a radius of 30 metres measured from a proposed small house site, the provision of an emergency vehicular access ("EVA") is not required, but fire safety alternatives must be implemented instead. According to the Tai Po District Lands Office, the above case belongs to such a situation. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) since the implementation of the above new Fire Safety Requirements, of the number of small houses in the New Territories which have been exempted from the provision of EVA, and whether the authorities are required to inspect the small houses where fire safety alternatives are implemented; if so, of the number of such inspections conducted so far, and whether there are cases of non-compliance with the requirements; if so, of the number of cases of non-compliance;
(b) of the total number of complaints received by the New Territories district lands offices since July 1, 2006 regarding the obstruction of access to small houses; and
(c) given that the provision of EVA is to ensure that in case of emergency, emergency vehicles including fire engines and ambulances have ready access to the village houses, whether the authorities will consider amending the relevant legislation to ensure the access of emergency vehicles to villages in the New Territories, so as to avoid any delay in rescue and disaster relief operations?
The obstruction of access to village houses in the New Territories is mainly due to the encircling of the subject land by private lots nearby. This is not necessarily related to the new fire safety arrangements, and one should not mix up the two issues. As such cases often involve private land ownership, generally the New Territories District Lands Offices (NTDLOs) will advise the complainants to approach the landowners of the nearby lots to work out a practicable solution.
Under the Emergency Vehicular Access (EVA) arrangements for small houses introduced in 1997, for a cluster of 10 or more small houses, there should be, within 30 metres from each house, a vehicular access to allow emergency vehicles to arrive. For a cluster of nine or fewer small houses, the Administration would, depending on the actual circumstances, consider whether EVAs would be required.
The Heung Yee Kuk (HYK) and many villagers had reflected to the Administration that given the geographical constraints of villages in the New Territories, not all small houses could be provided with EVAs. Hence, the Administration and the HYK formed a working group to review the issue. After detailed deliberations, the Lands Department (Lands D) introduced a set of new fire safety arrangements on July 1, 2006 for processing small house applications in a more pragmatic and flexible manner. Details of the arrangements are as follows:
(a) if a small house application site is located less than 30 metres away from an existing EVA, or if a cluster of fewer than 10 houses (including the application site) are located within a radius of 30 metres from the application site, provision of an EVA is not required;
(b) if a cluster of 10 or more houses (including the application site) are located within a radius of 30 metres from a small house application site, the applicant should consider ways to provide an EVA to the application site;
(c) where an EVA cannot be provided because of geographical constraints or problems with private land ownership, the applicants must implement at least one of the following fire safety alternatives -
(i) automatic sprinkler installation; or
(ii) fire detection system and hose reel system (applicable if there is no fire separation between floors of the three-storey small house); or
(iii) fire detection system and fire extinguisher on each floor of the small house (applicable if there is fire separation between floors of the three-storey small house).
For applicants who opt for fire safety alternatives (ii) or (iii) above, they are required to attend a fire safety training course arranged by the Fire Services Department (FSD).
My reply to the three-part question is set out below -
(a) As at April 30, 2008, the relevant figures are as follows:
(i) 2,472 small house applications are not required to provide EVAs either because the application sites concerned are less than 30 metres away from the existing EVA, or because fewer than 10 houses (including the application site) are located within a radius of 30 metres from the application sites.
(ii) There are 496 small house applications in which a cluster of 10 or more houses (including the application site) are located within a radius of 30 metres from the application sites. The applicants have to consider ways to provide EVAs. If no EVA can be provided due to the above constraints, the applicants must implement one of the abovementioned fire safety alternatives.
When these 496 small houses are completed and when the applicants apply to NTDLOs for certificates of compliance, the NTDLOs will liaise with the FSD for site inspection to ensure that installation of the fire safety alternatives are in compliance with the arrangements mentioned above.
As the new fire safety arrangements have only come into operation since July 1, 2006, most of the small houses so approved are still under construction. Only one case where fire safety alternatives are allowed has been referred to the FSD so far. The FSD has inspected the fire safety installation of the small house concerned and no irregularities or non-compliance with the requirements has been found.
(b) Since July 1, 2006, the NTDLOs have received a total of 26 complaints regarding the obstruction of access to village houses. However, none of the sites under complaint are related to the new fire safety arrangements. Taking the case in Fung Yuen Village of Tai Po mentioned in the question as an example, the small houses built on the private lots encircling the complainant's land were approved in 2004.
(c) Prior to the implementation of the new fire safety arrangements, the Administration has, in collaboration with the HYK, carefully considered the geographical constraints and relevant circumstances of villages in the New Territories. We understand that it is impracticable to provide EVAs to all small house sites. The two-pronged approach of fire safety alternatives together with fire safety training has been introduced to address the fire safety issue of small house applications. This is a practicable way to strike a balance between fire safety protection for villagers and geographical constraints of villages in the New Territories.
For the small houses without EVAs, fire appliances and ambulances of the FSD will be driven to the nearest accessible point so that emergency rescue operations, where appropriate, can be commenced as soon as practicable. If circumstances at the scene permit, the FSD will consider deploying Emergency Medical Assistant Motorcycles closer to the scene.
Ends/Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Issued at HKT 15:01