Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1) 1075
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/HG/1

Panel on Housing
Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 19 January 1998, 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 Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Members absent :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon LEUNG Chun-ying, JP
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon LAU Kong-wah

Public officers attending:

For all items

Housing Bureau

Ms Sandy CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary/2

For item VI

Housing Department

Mr Joseph LEE
Assistant Director/Management(2)

Chief Manager/Management (New Territories East)

Mr William HO
Acting Chief Maintenance Surveyor/EMM

For item V

Housing Department

Mr R A Bates
Business Director/Commercial and Services

For item VI

Housing Department

Chief Housing Manager/Redevelopment

Attendance by invitation:

For item IV

Joint Group for Fighting for Authorized Installation of Air-conditioners

Mr KO Wing-luen (Chairman)
Miss LAW Wai-yee
Mr LEUNG Kam-tao

Clerk in attendance :

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

Staff in attendance :

Miss Becky YU
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3

I.Confirmation of minutes of previous meetings
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1) 693 and 735 and 742)

The minutes of the meetings held on 17 November and 2 December and of the joint meeting with the Panel on Planning, Lands and Works on 2 December 1997 were confirmed.

II.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. The following items would be discussed at the next Panel meeting:

    - Rent policy and redevelopment assistance for tenants of factory estates built by the former Resettlement Department; and

    - Problems arising from the introduction of the Tenants Purchase Scheme.

In view of the far-reaching implications of the Tenants Purchase Scheme, members agreed to advance the next meeting originally scheduled for 16 February 1998 to Tuesday, 10 February 1998, at 2:30 pm in order that their views could be considered by the Home Ownership Committee of the Housing Authority at its meeting on 12 February 1998.

III.Information paper issued since last meeting

3. Members noted that no information papers had been issued since last meeting.

IV.Enforcement exercise against unauthorized installation of air-conditioners in public rental estates

Meeting with the Joint Group for Fighting for Authorized Installation of Air-conditioners
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1) 796 (01) and (02))

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr KO Wing-luen highlighted the salient points in the information paper. While agreeing with the need to ensure safely installation of air-conditioners (A/Cs) in public rental housing (PRH) estates, the deputation expressed grave concern on the high-hand approach adopted by the Housing Department (HD) of terminating rental tenancies in the event that tenants concerned failed to rectify the installations within the grace period. They pointed out that as rental blocks in older estates were not provided with permanent A/C hoods, tenants had no choice but to install split-type A/Cs after the partition of bedrooms. The mandatory relocation of condensing units into the balconies would not only diminish the usable area of the flats but also defeat the cooling effect of A/Cs. To this end, the deputation had counter-proposed a number of alternatives in respect of the installation method for consideration by HD. These included the use of approved contractors to ensure that the walls to which A/C shelves were fastened were strong enough to withstand the pressure and regular inspection as well as maintenance of shelves by qualified professionals. It was regretted that HD had declined these proposals without cause, while allowing the estate offices of HD and commercial units to install A/Cs outside their units.

Meeting with the Administration
(PLC Paper No. 796 (03))

5. The Assistant Director/Management(2) (AD/M(2)) briefed members on the latest development of the enforcement exercise against unauthorized installation of A/Cs in PRH estates. As at end of December 1997, only about 300 cases out of 50,000 unauthorized A/Cs in the first phase of the exercise remained to be rectified. Of these outstanding cases, over 90% of the tenants had confirmed their intention to rectify the installations within the extended grace period of three months. The result clearly indicated that the difficulties related to rectification works could be and had been overcome, and that the exercise had gained support and co-operation from the majority of tenants. So far, no Notice-to-Quit had been served for reasons of unauthorized installation of A/Cs. AD/M(2) assured members that HD would continue to adopt a flexible approach in dealing with cases of unauthorized installations and would carefully consider all counter-proposals put forward with a view to minimizing inconvenience caused to tenants concerned.

6. Some members considered that the long-term solution to the problem was for the Administration to install permanent A/C hoods in older PRH estates. The Chief Manager/Management (New Territories East) (CM/M(NTE)) advised that there were suitable locations for the installation of A/Cs in all existing PRH blocks. Window-type A/Cs could be installed at any position of the windows provided by HD whereas split-type A/Cs at load-bearing horizontal structural elements wide enough to accommodate fully and safely the condensing unit. For cases where balconies were enclosed with aluminum windows resulting in ventilation problem of A/Cs, HD had designed a lateral vent duct to overcome the difficulties that tenants might encounter. Given that there were suitable locations for and alternative installation methods of A/C in older estates, installation of additional A/C hoods was deemed not necessary.

7. Mr CHAN Kam-lam remained of the view that the danger caused by protruding A/Cs would be reduced if these were installed in such a way that their centres of gravity fell within the flats. The situation would be further improved by regular inspection and certification by qualified professionals. The Acting Chief Maintenance Surveyor/EMM reiterated that in the majority of non-compliance cases, the balconies were enclosed with aluminum windows installed by the tenants which might not be able to support a protruding A/C. As regards regular inspection and certification by qualified professionals, AD/M(2) cautioned that this would incur heavy financial commitment on the tenants, and that it would be extremely difficult and labour intensive for HD to ensure safety of the installation regularly. Mr CHAN Choi-hi was not convinced of the Administration's response and made reference to the Electricity (Wiring) Regulations, under which owners of fixed electrical installation in certain specified types of premises were required to employ registered electrical contractors to inspect, test and certify the installation at least once every five years. The same approach should apply to the installation of A/Cs in PRH estates. Mr David CHU remarked that one possible solution would be for tenants to use a wire rope to fasten the A/Cs to an anchor on the floor.

8. Members generally felt that HD should adopt a more flexible approach in dealing with cases of unauthorized installation with a view to minimizing inconvenience caused to the tenants in subsequent phases of the enforcement exercise. They also urged the Administration to re-consider the deputation's counter-proposals in which the installation method suggested was no difference from those employed in private buildings.

V. Safety problems of facilities in shopping centres of public housing estates
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1) 718 and 796(04))

9. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Business Director/Commercial and Services (BD/C&S) said that the Housing Authority (HA) was extremely concerned about the accident where a boy, together with a glass panel fell from the first floor onto the ground floor of Ping Tin Shopping Centre. A preliminary report on the technical issues surrounding the failure of the glass panel balustrade was prepared on 24 December 1997, followed by a further report on the cause of failure, procedures relating to the design, construction and maintenance of glass panel balustrades and possible improvement in procedures to prevent recurrence of the incident. These reports were examined by the Building Committee (BC) and the Commercial Properties Committee of HA at a special joint meeting held on 7 January 1998. It was noted that the main causes of the failure of the glass panel balustrades were due to inadequate anchorage of the glass panel at the top recess; missing of distance pieces to retain the glass panel firmly in position; and absence of weld fixing to secure the handrail from rotation. To this end, the Committees were requested to follow up the preventive measures recommended in the report and to consider what disciplinary actions should be taken against the parties concerned, including the contractor, single operator and HD staff. Meanwhile, technical inspection on all HD-managed shopping centres with different designs of glass balustrade had been completed and no signs of potential failure were detected.

10. As the Site Inspection Team had failed to detect obvious defects such as missing weld and sealant during the final inspection prior to handover of Ping Tin Shopping Centre despite the availability of detailed inspection guidelines, Mr Bruce LIU was doubtful about the effectiveness of the new proposed specific checklist. He considered that a double checking system should be in place to ensure that all inspection procedures were completed. In response, BD/C&S emphasized that supervision of works was the prime responsibility of contractors. To improve the accountability of contractors, measures such as requiring contractors to provide technical substantiation for modifications made during construction would be introduced to ensure compliance with the required performance standards and regulatory requirements. In addition, the proposed specific checklist would ensure mandatory inspection of critical items such as glass balustrades. As regards the need for a double checking system, BD/C&S said that this would be considered by BC in due course.

11. Mr CHAN Kam-lam considered that the ultimate solution to the problem was to ensure quality of construction works. This was particularly important having regard to the substantial number of impending construction projects essential to meet the Chief Executive's pledge for annual provision of 85,000 flats. BD/C&S said that BC was vigilant over the need to improve building quality with the increase in flat production and was looking at ways to tighten up quality standards through a range of measures which included awarding tenders to better performed contractors. At present, HA would only invite tenders from the 75% best building contractors on the list. On the suggestion of creating a better skilled labour force and employing permanent labour by contractors to enhance the performance of contractors, BD/C&S advised that BC was considering a number of ways to tackle the problem. He envisaged that when the public housing production became steady each year by 2001, it might be able to sustain a stable labour force.

12. On the selection of building contractors, BD/C&S advised that BC was committed to expanding the list of contractors and had relaxed the eligibility criteria to allow contractors who had experience in constructing non-residential buildings of over 15 storeys for the past three years to apply for inclusion in the list. Nevertheless, the requirements on contractors' performance remained unchanged. Apart from construction experience, HA would take into account applicants' financial standing, management capability and quality of previous works in considering their applications.

13. As regards compensation for the victim concerned, BD/C&S said that HA was determined to fulfilling its obligation as the owner of Ping Tin Shopping Centre. The family concerned could make request for compensation. Meanwhile, assistance from the Social Welfare Department had been made available for the victim.

14. At members' request, the Administration undertook to revert back to the Panel BC's decisions on the disciplinary actions to be taken against parties concerned, need for a double checking system, and ways to improve construction quality.

VI.Re-housing policy regarding redevelopment of public rental estates
(PLC Paper No. CB(1) 796(05))

15. Mr CHAN Kam-lam was doubtful if the Comprehensive Redevelopment Programme (CRP) could be completed by the year 2005 as pledged. He considered that the Administration should announce in the upcoming Five-Year Redevelopment Programme a schedule within which all estate blocks under CRP would be demolished so that affected estates could make necessary arrangements, such as abolition of renovation plan. The Chief Housing Manager/Redevelopment (CHM/R) took note of the member's concern but advised that the Administration had to take into account factors, including the availability of re-housing resources, housing aspiration of tenants concerned and need to suspend rent increase for affected estates upon announcement of clearance, when finalizing the redevelopment operation. It would therefore be inappropriate to announce a definite clearance time-table prematurely. Nevertheless, the Administration would demolish 195 estate blocks under the Five-Year Redevelopment Programme for 1997/98 to 2001/02 and 46 blocks thereafter up to 2005.

16. Some members expressed concern about the re-housing arrangements for CRP tenants. They were worried that tenants concerned would be deprived of the opportunity of re-housing within the same district if reception estates were transferred for sale under the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS). CHM/R advised that although it was the Administration's intention to re-house CRP tenants within the same district, this might not be always possible in the event that insufficient units were produced as a result of improved space and layout requirements in redeveloped sites. Applications for re-housing to other preferred districts would be met as far as practicable subject to the availability of re-housing resources at the districts concerned. CRP tenants were also encouraged to become home owners. First priority in flat selection would be given to CRP tenants with re-housing notice, normally given 18 to 24 months prior to the actual redevelopment, should they choose to purchase HOS flats. Second priority would be given to those whose rental units were due for clearance within three years but had not yet received the re-housing notice. As regards the sale of transfer block flats, CHM/R assured members that HD was prepared to consult tenants in estates earmarked for redevelopment to ascertain their interest in buying transfer block flats in reception estates. These units would be retained for letting in the event of poor response. The Chairman however pointed out that the sale of transfer blocks was a new policy yet to be endorsed.

VII.Any other business

17. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 5:00 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
6 March 1998