Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1) 382
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/HG/1

Minutes of special meeting held on Monday, 15 September 1997, at 2:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Chairman)
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Members attending :

Hon Henry WU
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon LEUNG Chun-ying, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting

Public officers attending :

For all items

Housing Bureau
Mr Parrish NG, Principal Assistant Secretary (Housing)/2

For items I and II

Housing Department

Assistant Director/Management (1)

Mr S Y MA,
Chief Manager/Management (New Territories East)

For item I

Senior Maintenance Surveyor/Strategy Development

Senior Building Services Engineer/South 2

For item III

Assistant Director/Operations & Redevelopment

Mrs Irene CHENG,
Chief Architect/Design & Standards (Acting)

Clerk in attendance :

Ms LEUNG Siu-kum,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)2

Staff in attendance :

Miss Becky YU,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3

I.Installation of air conditioners in public rental housing estates
(PLC Paper No. CB(1) 226 and 231(01) to (04))

Enforcement programme

The Assistant Director/Management (1) (AD/M(1)) and the Chief Manager/Management (New Territories East) (CH/M(NTE)) briefed members on the implementation of the enforcement programme against unauthorized installation of air-conditioners (A/Cs) in public rental housing (PRH) estates. They said that with the increasing popularity in the use of A/Cs among tenants and upgrading of electricity loading in PRH estates, there had been an increase in the number of A/Cs installed, including unauthorized ones. The Housing Authority considered that since the previous persuasion approach was not effective enough, more stringent enforcement action should be taken against unauthorized A/Cs as they posed potential danger to passers-by.

2.AD/M(1) advised that although there had not been an incident of falling A/C in PRH estates, preventive measures should be taken to guard against similar recurrence of the recent incident in Yau Ma Tei where a falling A/C had caused serious damage to a bus passing by. He said that the enforcement programme would also help to improve the outlook and structural safety of the buildings. Prior to the implementation of the programme in April 1997, the Housing Department (HD) launched a territory-wide publicity campaign over the enforcement exercise and met with a number of concern groups and tenant organizations. It was found that the public was generally supportive of the programme which was phased over a period of three years. In view of the small number of split-type A/Cs and the greater danger posed by the condenser units protruding outside the buildings, these cases were tackled in the first year. For window-type A/Cs, priority in enforcement action was determined according to the block types. Since the implementation of the programme, 42,457 advisory letters and 13,699 initial warning letters had been issued. As a result, 7,166 cases of unauthorized A/C installation were rectified. So far, no Notice-to-quit (NTQ) had been issued as most of the tenants were very cooperative.

3.Noting that about 30% of the A/Cs installed in PRH estates were unauthorized despite prior approval ought to be sought, Mrs Selina CHOW questioned the effectiveness of HD in performing its management function. She also queried whether it was reasonable for HD to adopt enforcement actions as stringent as termination of tenancy for non-compliance in tackling the problem. In response, AD/M(1) and CH/M(NTE) stressed that HD had all along been concerned with the safety problem in the installation of A/Cs. Right from the time of signing up tenancy agreements, estate staff would explain in detail to tenants the need to seek prior approval from the estate office before installing any fixtures in their flats, including A/Cs. At present, about 70% of the A/Cs in PRH estates were properly installed.

4.While agreeing with the need to ensure public safety, members maintained the view that HD should be held equally responsible for the unsatisfactory situation. They urged HD to employ a more flexible approach in dealing with the problem. AD/M(1) responded that a warning system had been adopted whereby a grace period of up to five months was granted to the concerned tenants to rectify the situation. NTQ would only be served at the end of the fifth month if the tenant refused to follow the relevant drawings and installation guidelines provided by HD.

5.Members considered that HD should extend the grace period since the rectification cost had already been boosted up by registered technicians to $1,600-$2,000 due to the heavy demand. AD/M(1) reiterated that sufficient time had been allowed for the tenants concerned to rectify the situation. He added that no NTQ would be served if the tenant could demonstrate that he had already arranged with a registered technician for the rectification work to be carried out beyond the grace period. In response to a member's view that HD should appoint an approved contractor to carry out the rectification work for tenants at fixed costs, AD/M(1) advised that there was no provision under the Housing Ordinance which enabled HD to have access to tenants' premises to dismantle or re-locate any of their fixtures. HD could only serve NTQ to tenants in the event of contravention to conditions in the tenancy. In any case, aggrieved tenants could seek adjudication from an independent appeal board.

6.Members pointed out that condenser units of A/Cs in some of the estate offices also protruded outside the buildings. AD/M(1) responded that maintenance surveyors and structural engineers had been employed to ensure that all A/Cs in estate offices were safely installed. Members considered that to avoid double standard, professional officers should also be employed by HD to ascertain the safety of unauthorized A/Cs in PRH estates. Those which were structurally safe should remain. AD/M(1) insisted that if the installation methods were not standardized, it would be difficult for HD to identify those A/Cs posing imminent danger to the public, particularly by way of visual inspection at a distance.

7.Members remarked that the concern over falling A/C was a territory-wide issue and was not particular to PRH estates. It was therefore unreasonable for HD to adopt such a high-hand approach. Members suggested that HD should install permanent A/C hoods in all PRH estates as a long-term solution. AD/M(1) cautioned that the installation of A/C hoods, if added in properly after completion of the building would subject the premises to burglary in addition to affecting the aesthetic outlook of the buildings. Members were however not convinced as A/C hoods were already standard features in most buildings today.

Installation methods

8.AD/M(1) advised that in the majority of non-compliance cases, tenants had enclosed the balconies with unauthorized aluminum windows and the window-type A/Cs had been installed in such a position that the compressor of the latter protruded outside the balconies. Members pointed out that it was unreasonable to require tenants to move the compressors of A/Cs into the balconies as this would diminish the usable area of the flats and defeat the cooling effect of A/Cs. Furthermore, the balconies might have been used for accommodation purpose. AD/M(1) responded that balconies in PRH flats were intended for the purpose of ventilation and lighting rather than accommodation. The Deputy Chairman disagreed that balconies in PRH were for ventilation. He pointed out that balcony areas were included in the calculation of the allocation standard of 5.5 square metres per person.

9.Members then made various suggestions to HD regarding the installation of A/Cs. Some opined that the danger caused by protruding air conditioning units would be reduced by adjusting the units in such a way that their centres of gravity fell within the flats. AD/M(1) advised that it would be difficult to ascertain the centre of gravity of the air conditioner installed. The Deputy Chairman asked if it was feasible for tenants to put their A/Cs on shelves fastened to the ceiling of the balconies with part of the A/Cs protruding outside the balconies. The Senior Maintenance Surveyor/Strategy Development advised that the ceiling might not be able to stand the pressure of a protruding air conditioner.

10.Members considered that the installation methods provided by HD were neither exhaustive nor fool proof. They urged HD to withhold the issuance of NTQ until it had considered all views expressed by both tenants and relevant parties. A member further suggested to seek legal advice on the liability in the event of tenants being injured by A/Cs installed in accordance with HD's instructions.

11.While reckoning that the installation methods by HD might not be exhaustive, AD/M(1) advised that a working group had been established to consider all proposals put forward by tenants and the current revised installation methods were quite comprehensive and easy to follow. The working group also held meetings with concern groups and tenant organizations on problems relating to the enforcement exercise. He considered it impracticable to withhold the enforcement exercise as the majority of tenants had undertaken the rectification work. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing (Housing)/2 also expressed worries that the effectiveness of the operation would be adversely affected if HD had to suspend the enforcement exercise.

12.Members remained unconvinced and considered that a more flexible approach should be adopted with a view to reducing resistance from tenants in the subsequent phases which would comprise more difficult cases. Consideration should also be given to extending the grace period, exploring other installation methods which would allow part of the condenser units to protrude outside the buildings, and withholding the issuance of NTQ until HD had considered all proposals put forward by parties concerned. AD/M(1) clarified that HD had already been dealing with the more difficult cases in the first phase, particularly with split-type A/C units removed to proper locations. He anticipated that the remaining cases in the next two phases would be easier to tackle.

13.Members were disappointed at the Administration's response. The Chairman moved and the Panel passed the following motion:

"That the Panel on Housing urges the Housing Department to consider seriously the strong views expressed by tenants on the installation of air-conditioners in public rental housing estates, and requests the Department to:

  1. adopt safety as the only basis for considering matters relating to the installation of air-conditioners in public rental housing flats; and

  2. suspend the issuance of Notices-to-quit for matters relating to the installation of air-conditioners in their flats for a period of six months, apart from taking immediate action against unauthorized installation of air-conditioners which pose an imminent danger to passers-by"

The Chairman instructed that the motion be conveyed to the Administration.

(Post-meeting note: A letter to the Administration on the motion was issued on 18 September 1997.)

II.Triad infiltration in the decoration of new public rental housing estates

(PLC Paper No. CB(1) 231(05))

14.At the invitation of the Chairman, AD/M(1) highlighted the salient points in the information paper. The Approved Decoration Contractor (ADC) System was introduced in 1982 for the purposes of ensuring that decorating works in new PRH estates would be carried out properly so as not to affect adversely the building structure, and of reducing as far as possible the disturbance caused to tenants by other decoration personnel. ADCs were subject to tight control under the Administrative Rules of HD and punitive actions would be taken against poor performance, misconduct and unhealthy financial situation etc. Since the implementation of the Scheme and security control measures such as the installation of security gates, deployment of security guards to guard against intrusion of unauthorized decorators and undesirable personnel, and provision of different identification tags for ADCs, tenants and their helpers to facilitate easy identification by security guards, the number of reports on triad harassment had been significantly reduced.

15.AD/M(1) agreed with members that the Police had an important role in combating triad involvement in the decoration works of new PRH estates. To ensure good order in the estates, HD would maintain close liaison with the local Police during the intake period. Arrangement would also be made for the establishment of temporary Neighbourhood Police Units so that tenants concerned could approach the Police direct in the event of triad harassment. In reply to a related question, AD/M(1) clarified that the alleged triad activities in Tung Chung took place outside the estates under HD's management. Nevertheless, precautions would be taken to ensure law and order within these estates.

III.Interim Housing
(PLC Paper No. CB(1) 231(06))

16.Members note that the licence fee for prefabricated interim housing (PIH) was much higher than other forms of interim housing and questioned the rationale for such a difference. The Assistant Director/Operations and Redevelopment (AD/O&R) explained that in determining the licence fees for interim housing, HD would take into account factors, including the affordability of prospective licensees, age and location of structures/buildings, as well as standards of accommodation. The relatively high licence fee for PIH was attributed to the high construction cost and availability of better facilities such as elevators, public television antenna, aluminum windows, and the provision of individual kitchen and toilet. He added that the current monthly licence fee of $49.9 per square metre for PIH only represented a median rent-to-income ratio of 11% which would fall within the affordability of prospective licensees.

17.The Deputy Chairman asked for the reason why the licence fee for PIH was higher than that for flats in the two refurbished older public rental blocks in Shek Lei Estate having regard to the rather remote location of the PIH at Sai Kung. AD/O&R explained that the difference in licence fees between this PIH and refurbished older public rental blocks were mainly attributed to the difference in the provision of facilities and aged conditions of the latter. The rental blocks in Shek Lei Estate would likely be demolished within the next five years. AD/O&R added that the Administration would consider relinquishing subsequent PIH projects on account of the high construction cost. Consideration had been given to constructing high-rise Vertical Interim Housing as a long-term measure to address the demand for interim housing.

18.Mr LIU Sing-lee asked if the Administration would consider constructing interim housing in urban or suburban areas. AD/O&R clarified that the choice of the two Vertical Interim Housing sites was incidentally a matter of availability of sites, and reckoned that it would be difficult to secure sites in or near urban areas in view of the scarce supply.

19.Having regard to the large number of vacant PRH flats available, a member asked if these could be used to re-house residents in Temporary Housing Areas so as to expedite the clearance programme. AD/O&R explained that the schedule for clearing all Temporary Housing Areas by March 2000 had been set taking into account the lead time for construction of interim housing. He assured members that HD was committed to identifying re-housing resources with a view to expediting the clearance programme as far as possible. As regards vacant PRH flats, AD/O&R advised that these had been earmarked for other re-housing categories, such as residents affected by comprehensive redevelopment programmes and applicants on the General Waiting List. These had been left vacant mainly on account of the lead time for intake or renovation. Efforts would be made to shorten the vacant period.

IV.Any other business

Delay in completion of the public housing projects in Tung Chung

20.The Chairman remarked that the delay in completion of the public housing projects in Tung Chung had caused undue disruptions to the daily routine of prospective tenants, in particular on students who had to take long hours travelling to and fro schools. She sought clarification on the cause for delay and the measures in place to tackle the problem. AD/M(1) attributed the delay to the persistent bad weather over the past few months. Notwithstanding this, HD had been able to complete the Yu Tung Court and Fu Tung Estate in June and July 1997 respectively. Tenants concerned had been informed ahead of the flat allocation and arrangements had also been made with ADCs with a view to expediting decoration works. To keep tenants abreast of the progress, HD, in collaboration with relevant government departments, had organized an open forum in August 1997 and had set up an information centre to centralize the dissemination of information during the intake period. AD/M(1) agreed with a member's view that the best way to help these tenants was to ensure timely availability of related community services. So far, a general and a dental clinics as well as a market had come into operation.

21.AD/M(1) acknowledged the difficulties which students had to face in travelling to and fro schools but advised that arrangements had been made with the Transport Department and relevant public bus companies to increase bus services to Tung Chung, particularly during after-school hours. Schools concerned had also voluntarily adjusted their school hours to alleviate the pressure on students. A member considered that HD should employ private bus companies to provide additional bus services at lower cost during the intake period as was the case with Tseng Kwan O; this would also serve as a form of compensation for the delay. AD/M(1) stressed that the situation in Tung Chung had been significantly improved with the concerted efforts of relevant parties. The proposal put forward might create undue confusion on regular transport services. Nevertheless, a rent reduction of 5% for the first year had been offered to PRH tenants in Tung Chung.

22.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 5:10 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
24 October 1997