LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1574/96-97
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)
Ref: CB1/PL/PLW/1

LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works

Minutes of meeting held on Tuesday, 18 March 1997, at 10:30 a.m. in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon James TO Kun-sun
    Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
    Hon SIN Chung-kai
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling

Member attending :

    Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, OBE, JP

Members absent :

    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP (Chairman)
    Hon LAU Wong-fat, OBE, JP Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, OBE, FEng, JP

Public officers attending :

    Items III

    Mr Stanley WONG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
    Environment and Lands (Planning)

    Mr Bosco FUNG
    Government Town Planner/Territorial &
    Sub-regional, Planning Department

    Mr WONG Wing-kwong
    Senior Engineer/Territory Transport Planning
    Transport Department

    For Item IV

    Mr Esmond LEE
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
    Environment and Lands (Lands)

    Mr CHUNG Hung-kwan
    Assistant Director of Buildings

    Mr AU Choi-kai
    Chief Building Surveyor
    Buildings Department

    Mr K T LAI
    Assistant Director of Regional Services

    Mr P L PO
    Assistant Director of Urban Services

    Mr T W CHENG
    Senior Staff Officer
    Urban Services Department

    Mr CHAN Chi-chiu
    Chief Engineer
    Water Supplies Department

    Item V

    Mr Parrish NG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing

    Mr Michael Byrne
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (Policy & Safety)

    Mr Vincent TONG
    Senior Assistant Director (Maintenance)

    Housing Department

    Mr S H HO
    Chief Architect
    Housing Department

    Mr K Y MAK
    Assistant Director/Supply and Distribution
    Water Supplies Department

    Mr C S CHIN
    Chief Engineer/Mainland Northeast
    Water Supplies Department

Clerk in attendance :

    Miss Odelia LEUNG,
    Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

    Mr CHEUK Wing-chuen,
    Senior Assistant Secretary (FC)2

In the absence of the Chairman who had another commitment, the Deputy Chairman took over the chair.

2.2.The Deputy Chairman consulted members on whether any overseas’ duty visits were proposed for the months of April, May and June 1997. A member opined that in planning for the development of rural land into low density residential sites, Hong Kong might make reference to the experience in Singapore. He suggested that the Panel might consider organising a study tour to Singapore. Since the meeting had just had a quorum, the Deputy Chairman suggested circulating the proposal to Panel members for consideration.

[Post-meeting note: The member withdrew his proposal and suggested that this be considered by the Panel in future in connection with other proposals for overseas’ duty visits.]

I. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

( List of outstanding items for discussion tabled)

3.3.Members agreed, as a follow-up to the meeting on 18 February 1997, to discuss the subject of the lead time for production of land and housing at the next meeting scheduled for 15 April 1997. Members also agreed that professional bodies which had responded to the invitation for comments on the subject should be invited to the meeting.

II. Information papers issued since last meeting

4.4.Members noted the following information papers issued since the last meeting:

(a) Paper No. CB(1)979/96-97 -- information paper from the Administration concerning the use of "system design" construction method for school projects.

(b) Paper No. CB(1)1009/96-97 -- information paper from the Administration concerning the supplemental agreements of the Airport Authority with Passenger Terminal Building contractors.

(c) Paper No. CB(1)1013/96-97 -- information paper from the Administration concerning relocation of Discovery Bay Ferry Services to Pier 3 in Central.

III. Feasibility studies on cross-border links with Lingdingyang Bridge and Shenzhen Hong Kong Western Corridor

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1068/96-97(01))

5. Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Planning )(PAS/PEL) briefed members on the background, objectives and approach of the Crosslinks Further Study (the Study)as set out in the paper.

6.5.Some members were concerned about the total time required for completing the three stages of the Study. PAS/PEL and Government Town Planner/Territorial and Sub-Regional (GTP) explained that the Study would cover not just transport issues but other important areas including environmental assessment and land use and planning. Although cross-border freight and traffic forecasts of Shenzhen and Zhuhai were already available, they were at variance with those estimated by Hong Kong. The Study would compare these forecasts in detail. Preparatory work for Stages II of the Study had already commenced so that it could start before the completion of Stage I and the Administration envisaged that this would shorten the Study by six months.

Admin.7.6.Members considered improvements to existing road border crossing facilities a pressing need and enquired if the Administration could expedite the completion of this part of the Study. PAS/PEL responded that the Administration had been making efforts, and would continue, to improve these facilities. Specific recommendations on how these facilities could be improved would be made upon completion of the Study. GTP referred members to the Annex to the information paper which set out the draft work programme of Stage I of the Study. He drew members’ attention to item (D) which showed that existing border crossing capacity assessment and improvement investigation would be completed by the end of 1997. Members requested the Administration to brief the Panel upon completion of the examination.

Admin.8.7. A member expressed doubt on the need to commission multi-consultancy firms for the Study and opined that the Administration should train up civil servants for research work. In reply, PAS/PEL said that although the Administration would contract out the Study, it would work closely with the consultants. As a normal practice, the Planning Department would be a co-ordinating department. He further advised that there would be resource constraints in assigning full-time staff to undertake research work as departments concerned might have difficulties in biding successfully for the necessary resources in the annual allocation exercise.

9. As to whether the Lingdingyang Bridge project and the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Western Corridor project had been approved by the Chinese Government and which of these had a priority, PAS/PEL replied that these projects had yet to be approved by the State Council. The Administration had no information on their relative priority. Although it would rest with the Chinese Government to decide on their relative priority, the Hong Kong Government would adopt a "response plan" approach to cater for different circumstances. A member opined that the Hong Kong Government should take a more active role in planning for additional cross-border links and asked whether the Administration had any views on the need, the priority and the work schedule of the proposed projects. PAS/PEL replied that it would be difficult for the Administration at this stage to give a definitive view on the merits of the respective projects before completion of all three stages of the Study. As far as additional cross-border links were concerned, both the Hong Kong Government and the Chinese Government had already reached a consensus on the need for these facilities to cope with future economic developments on both sides of the border. There was no question as to which side was playing a leading role. Through the Infrastructure Co-ordinating Committee (ICC), the two sides would continue to exchange views and information but the final decision would be made by the respective Governments. PAS/PEL assured members that only projects which were directly related to the proposed links would hinge on the results of the Study, whereas other road projects and improvement works serving the domestic highway network would not be affected.

10.9.A member considered it necessary to increase the transparency of ICC as this would allow more public inputs. In reply, PAS/PEL acknowledged the member’s concern but said that there were constraints in opening up ICC’s meetings. Under the current practice, a press release would be issued on the discussions and representatives from both sides would receive the press after every meeting. ICC was not privy to the results of the Study which would be released to the public as well. The member remarked that merely releasing the findings of the Study was not adequate; the public should be informed of any alternatives which had been considered by ICC.

IV. Water seepage in private buildings

(Paper No. CB(1)1068/96-97(02))

11.10. As background information, the Chairman informed members that the subject was referred by Shamshuipo District Board members to the Panel for discussion.

12.11.Members were concerned about the adequacy and the effectiveness of colour tests currently used by Government departments in identifying the cause of water seepage. They enquired whether the Administration would explore and use new technological means for the purpose. Assistant Director, Building Department (AD/BD) acknowledged the imperfection of the current means to identify the cause of water seepage. He said that the Administration was always alert to new methods but so far none could identify the cause of water seepage categorically.

13.12.Referring to paragraph 6 of the paper, a member opined that since departments had to establish beyond doubt the cause of water seepage before exercising the power under the relevant legislation, this was a very high threshold for taking action. In response, AD/BD said that the Buildings Department could not take any action unless water seepage was related to dangerous or unauthorised buildings works. Assistant Director, Regional Services Department (AD/RSD) added that under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, Cap. 132, RSD could only issue an abatement notice after establishing the cause of water seepage.

14.13. A member expressed concern over the low percentage of cases which could be dealt with internally by the four relevant departments, namely BD, RSD, Urban Services Department (USD) and Water Supplies Department (WSD). Actions had been taken only on 45% of 7,800 cases received by the departments per year (Annex A to the paper). Assistant Director, Urban Services Department (AD/USD) clarified that the average number of complaints received by each of the four departments included referrals from other departments. Thus, the actual total number of complaints should be less than 7,800. The percentage of cases dealt with internally could be regarded as the successful rate in dealing with water seepage complaints. He stressed that whether action could be taken on a complaint of water seepage in a multi-storey building depended very much on the co-operation of occupants of the building.

15.14.Regarding the pledge time to investigate the cause of a water seepage and to complete follow-up actions, members noted that BD required 40 days on average to find out the cause and another 8 months to complete follow-up actions for a normal case. This pledge time was exceptionally long as compared with those of the other three departments. Although WSD took less time, it was still significantly longer than the pledge time of the two municipal departments. AD/BD explained that the pledge time referred to in Annex A to the paper was the time required to deal with a complaint of unauthorised building works. The pledge time would be reduced to 10 days should the complaint relate to dangerous building structures. Of the average of 800 complaints received by BD per year, only 1 percent which were related to dangerous buildings could be dealt with by the department. Chief Engineer/WSD (CE/WSD) clarified that the pledge time referred to in Annex A to the paper was the total time taken from the receipt of complaint of a seepage case to the issue of letters to concerned parties reporting on the result of investigation and/or for taking remedial actions. This took 27 days on average. The pledge time to respond to and initiate action on a complaint of this nature was one day. AD/RSD added that it was the established policy of RSD to respond within two days to a complaint about nuisance irrespective of the nature of complaint. AD/USD said that the pledge time of USD was arrived at on the basis of past performance. USD took a longer time than RSD to investigate a case because it handled most of the water seepage complaints. Moreover, the time taken to gain access to premises concerned was also included. As a matter of fact, all complaints would be dealt with immediately.

Admin16.15.A member reckoned a need for the four departments to review current legislation and make necessary amendments in order to facilitate their work. An increase in resources in tackling water seepage complaints should also be considered. The Chairman shared the member’s concern and said that the Administration should review the means to improve co-ordination among the departments for dealing with water seepage and testing methods. In reply, Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Lands) (PAS/PEL) advised that since USD and RSD had already taken up the majority of water seepage complaints under the present system, he doubted the merits of referring all such complaints to them. The Administration was currently discussing ways to improve coordination of actions and expected to complete the review by the end of April 1997. The Administration was also prepared to try to identify better testing methods. The Administration agreed to report to the Panel in due course and to advise in writing the limitations of colour tests.

17.16.On the adequacy of manpower resources, CE/WSD said that as far as WSD was concerned, resources were deployed mainly to areas relating to the supply of water and only limited resources could be allocated to deal with water seepage cases.

18.17.In conclusion, the Chairman remarked that since a considerable number of buildings completed in recent years had leakage problems, BD should closely monitor the quality of buildings which was often the root cause.

V. Fresh water supply contamination in Ma On Shan Housing Estates

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1085/96-97)

19.18. Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (Policy & Safety) (PAS/W) briefed members on the background of the incident, the immediate remedial actions taken by the Water Supplies Department (WSD) and the Housing Department (HD) and the recommendations made by the Investigation Committee.

20.19 On the arrangements for compensation to affected households, Senior Assistant Director (Maintenance and Construction Services), Housing Department (SAD/MCS) said that the Contractor had admitted responsibility for the incident and would be liable for all reasonable claims for compensation. The Contractor had made some proposals for compensation. As of date, about 700 claims for compensation had been referred by HD to the Contractor who had settled some of them. As regards claims for damages to electrical appliances, these would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

21.20. On a members’ suggestion to set up a compensation fund to expedite the payment of compensation to affected tenants, SAD/MCS said that there was no such need given the positive attitude of the Contractor in providing compensation. Chief Architect (5), Housing Department (CA/HD) added that a Claims Committee had been set up by the Shatin District Board to follow up on the issue of compensation payments to tenants.

Admin.22.21. A member was disappointed at the narrow scope of the investigation and the apparently slow response of HD and WSD in the incident. In reply, SAD/MCS explained that the focus of the investigation was to find out the cause of contamination and to review HD’s existing checking and inspection mechanism with respect to the laying of underground pipes with a view to making recommendations to prevent similar recurrence. On the response of the departments in the incident, SAD/MCS said that HD had fully co-operated with WSD in taking immediate remedial actions. The Administration would review internally this area although this was not within the scope of the investigation. Members requested the Administration to advise the Panel after the review of any improvement measures to expedite the response in the event of similar recurrence.

Admin.23.22. As to whether any staff of HD and WSD should be penalised for the incident, SAD/MCS replied that the incident happened in a work site overseen by the Consultant Architects. The daily management and operation of the site were the responsibilities of the Consultant Architects. The role of HD was confined to the monitoring of their performance and as such HD’s staff should not be held liable. Nevertheless, HD had started reviewing its system in monitoring the performance of consultant architects and would consider shortening the intervals of reviewing their performance from six to three months.

24.23. Referring to the cause of the incident, a member asked if a formal procedure had been put in place to require contractors to inform consultant architects of re-arrangement of underground water pipes and to prevent the turning on of isolating valves without authorisation. SAD/MCS advised that HD had issued administrative guidelines to require contractors to keep a record of alteration works like relocation of pipe joints and to inform the consultant architects of such. Unfortunately, in the case, the Contractor had not promptly made known the alterations in the Phase 1 Contract to the Consultant Architects. HD would make sure that these procedures would be strictly followed in future. As for the turning on of isolating valves, SAD/MCS said there were also guidelines stating clearly that these should not be turned on prior to inspection and approval by WSD. It had yet to find out who had turned on the valves without approval in this incident. A series of recommendations had been made to avoid accidental or unauthorised operation of the valves. To this end, new measures would be adopted in all HD work sites.

25.24. Assistant Director, Water Supplies Department (AD/WSD) supplemented that based on the results of the investigation, the licensed plumber was found guilty of negligence and a hearing would be held under the Waterworks Ordinance, Cap. 102, on 10 March 1997 to decide on the appropriate follow-up actions. WSD would issue letters to all architects and plumbers to remind them of the need to verify the pipes before connection. WSD would encourage the use of different sizes for different types of pipes and issue guidelines on verification procedures. The Administration hoped that the Investigation Committee’s recommendations would apply to all building projects, not just those of HD.

26.25.The Chairman was concerned about the effects of this incident on the chance of the Contractor and the Consultant Architects in bidding for tenders for public works in future. He asked if the Administration would refer persons involved in the incident to professional associations to consider taking disciplinary actions. SAD/MCS said that they had informed the Architectural Services Department (ASD) of the names of the Contractor and Consultant Architects involved in the incident. It would be up to ASD to decide on any follow-up actions. Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (PAS/W) said that the Works Branch (WB) would not assess the performance of its approved contractors on the basis of work carried out for private or quasi government entities. Moreover, in inviting tenders for public works, WB might not have information on such performance. The Chairman requested HD to forward the Report of the Investigation Committee to WB for information.

27.26.As regards bacteria testing on salt water samples collected from the housing estates in question, AD/WSD said that chemical tests were conducted periodically on salt water samples, although these were not done as frequently as on fresh water samples. As a matter of fact, a test had been done on salt water samples on 27 February 1997.

28.27. The meeting closed at 12:45 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat

13 May 1997

Last Updated on 21 August 1998