Following is a question by the Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (December 12):
On June 21 this year, the media uncovered a number of unauthorised building works (UBWs) in the mansion of the Chief Executive (CE) who was about to assume office. In a written statement issued on November 23 in relation to the issue of UBWs in his mansion, CE disclosed that an extension part of some 200 square feet on the lower ground floor of House 4 of the mansion had been demolished in November last year, and the space in question had been bricked up. He had not made any application or given notification to the Buildings Department (BD) before carrying out such works. In reply to press enquiries, CE said that "his understanding was that an UBWs already dealt with no longer existed". Meanwhile, BD indicated on November 27 that, during a site inspection of the aforesaid mansion on June 26, its staff had found on the lower ground floor of House 4 an external wall which did not match the original building plans, and that on June 27, it had issued a letter to CE and the authorized person (AP) appointed by him, requesting them to provide information about that wall. BD had issued three written reminders thereafter, but no response had been received. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that neither CE nor the AP appointed by him had responded to the four letters from BD, whether BD has taken law enforcement actions in accordance with the existing policy; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) during the period from June 21 to 30 this year, whether the former Secretary for Development had summoned the key persons involved in the aforesaid UBWs case, and requested CE to open up the wall to enable the authorities to investigate if there was any extension part behind that wall; whether the incumbent Secretary for Development had summoned such key persons since he took office; if they had not done so, of the specific reasons for that; and
(c) in accordance with section 14 of the Buildings Ordinance, of the circumstances under which a property owner may carry out the aforesaid works to demolish extension parts and brick up the space in question without obtaining the Building Authority's approval and consent; whether "an UBWs already dealt with no longer existed" is one of those circumstances; whether the Government has received the relevant application from CE since June 21 this year; if it has, of the date of application, details of the processing of the application and the date of approval; if not, whether BD will take law enforcement actions (including instituting prosecutions); if it will, of the details?
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 (Cap. 123) (BO) and the prevailing enforcement policy. In respect of each case involving UBWs, BD will take enforcement actions in an impartial manner, without making any special arrangements for enforcement actions because of the identity of the owner. In gist, BD will not be particularly stringent or lenient in its enforcement actions because the owner is a senior Government official or celebrity.
I would also like to reiterate that both the former Secretary for Development and I are responsible for policy work. Enforcement of the BO falls under the purview of BD. BD staff have been handling each UBW case independently and professionally in accordance with the BO and the prevailing enforcement policy. Both the former Secretary for Development or I did not and will not give any instructions to BD regarding enforcement work in individual cases.
My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) & (b) In response to media reports on June 26 this year that there might be an "unauthorised servant's room" on the lower ground floor of House 4 at No. 4 Peel Rise (hereunder referred to as "House 4"), BD conducted on-site inspection on the same day. At that time, BD did not identify any "unauthorised servant's room" or new UBWs, but noticed that the position of part of the external wall of the original store room did not match with that shown on the original approved plan. In accordance with the established practice, on the following day, ie June 27, BD issued a letter to the authorised person (AP) and copied to the owner requesting for information on the construction and purpose of the external wall concerned.
When replying to media enquiries on June 28, BD responded according to the facts that it did not identify any "unauthorised servant's room" or new UBWs during the inspection on June 26. In its reply, BD also pointed out that it was following up with the AP appointed by the owner because while it did not identify any "unauthorised servant's room" as reported, it noticed that the position of part of an external wall did not match with that shown on the original approved plan, and therefore needed to follow up with the AP appointed by the owner. In accordance with the established practice, BD will not announce investigations that have yet to be completed; therefore, in its reply to media enquiries on June 28, it did not mention the above external wall, which was still under investigation.
Further to its letter of June 27 to the owner and AP requesting for information on the construction and purpose of the external wall, BD thereafter issued three written reminders to the AP urging him to provide the information. As according to the inspection on June 26 it was yet to be confirmed whether that external wall was a UBW, and there was no sign of obvious danger, BD, in accordance with the established practice, requested the owner and AP to provide information with a view to determining the necessary follow-up action. This practice was no different from the established practice of BD in handling other cases.
As mentioned above, the Secretary for Development is responsible for policy work, and will not take part in enforcement work in individual cases. BD is the enforcement department for enforcing the BO and enforcement work falls under its purview. Both the former Secretary for Development and I did not summon the concerned owner or the AP appointed by the owner in any cases.
(c) Different rectification works for UBWs are subject to different requirements under the BO. Some works are exempted works which may be carried out without the need for making application to BD. Some works fall under the scope of the Minor Works Control System. Owners may carry out rectification works through the simplified requirements of the system; depending on the type of works, reports may be submitted to BD after the works have been carried out. Pursuant to section 14(1) of the BO, some works require the prior approval of plans and consent to commencement of works from BD before the works are carried out.
In respect of the floor space on the lower ground floor of House 4, the owner issued a statement on Friday, November 23, which included information on that floor space. BD conducted on-site inspection on the first working day that followed (ie Monday, November 26), and immediately requested the 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 subsequent site inspection on November 29, 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, advising him to remove the UBW as soon as possible. The owner and AP are required to submit a remedial proposal in respect of the removal works to BD, and the works may only commence after BD has given its consent. As regards the external wall itself, as it was erected within the area of the lower ground floor of the original building, and did not involve the structure of the building, upon assessment it is confirmed to be an exempted works, which does not require BD's approval before erection. BD staff will continue to analyse and assess the information obtained in the inspection and follow up with the AP appointed by the owner with a view to determining the further enforcement action that should be taken.
Ends/Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:59