Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1) 682/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/HG/1

Panel on Housing

Minutes of meeting
held on Monday, 5 October 1998, at 4:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon LEE Wing-tat (Chairman)
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon NG Leung-sing
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Public officers attending :

For item IV

Housing Bureau

Miss Ophelia TSANG,
Principal Assistant Secretary (2) (Acting)

Ms Lorna WONG,
Principal Assistant Secretary (Housing Strategy)

Planning,Environment and Lands Bureau

Mr Esmond LEE,
Principal Assistant Secretary (Lands)

Housing Department

Business Director/Allocation and Marketing

Mr Robin TSE,
Senior Planning Officer/1 (Acting)

For item V

Home Affairs Bureau

Mr Francis LO,
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Housing Bureau

Miss Ophelia TSANG,
Atg Principal Assistant Secretary (2)

Home Affairs Department

Mr Augustine CHENG,
Deputy Director of Home Affairs

Mr TANG Hok-yin,
Atg Chief Officer/Office of the Licensing Authority

Housing Department

Mr CHENG Yiu-kong,
Assistant Director of Housing

Social Welfare Department

Mrs Cecilia TONG,
Assistant Director of Social Welfare
By invitation :
For item V

Wanchai Cage House Problems Resident Concern Group
Mr LAU Kim-fung
Mr AU Kam-wah
Mr LI Ting-ho
Miss WONG Shek-hung
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 last meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(1) 265/98-99)

The minutes of the meeting held on 7 September 1998 were confirmed.

II Information paper issued since last meeting

2. Members noted that no information paper had been issued since last meeting.

III Date of next meeting and items for discussion

3. The next meeting would be held on Monday, 2 November 1998, at 4:30 pm to discuss the following:

    - Policy on squatter areas; and

    - Waiting List for allocation of public rental housing flats.

IV Mixed development concept for the redevelopment of public housing estates
(LC Paper Nos. CB(1) 264/98-99(01) and (02))

4. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing (Housing Strategy) (PAS for H/HS) advised that the concept of mixed development was first introduced in the Long Term Housing Strategy (LTHS) White Paper released in February 1998. The objective was to encourage private sector involvement in the subsidized housing programme so as to improve the quality, design and standard of management of the flats concerned. Under the new approach, residential sites would be put up for sale by tender. The successful tenderer would be required to hand over at least 30% of flats selected at random within the development to the Government for sale to eligible purchasers at designated prices. The Administration had invited the Housing Society to carry out a pilot scheme on the new approach at two sites in Ap Lei Chau and Tin Shui Wai respectively. However, tender for these sites had to be withheld consequent upon the imposition of a nine-month moratorium on land sales by the Government.

5. Some members sought clarification on a newspaper report that the Housing Authority (HA) planned to redevelop 11 existing public rental housing (PRH) estates in prime sites in the urban area by way of mixed development. The Business Director/Allocation and Marketing (BD/A&M) replied that although the concept of mixed development was well supported by the Government and HA, this was nothing more than a concept at the present stage. He added that even if mixed development was feasible for these sites, it would be a long-term target to be considered in conjunction with the overall development in Hong Kong. PAS for H/HS also clarified that apart from the two sites in Ap Lei Chau and Tin Shui Wai, the Government had not approved other sites for the purpose of mixed development. Besides, sites used for mixed development would have to be approved by the Steering Committee on Land Supply for Housing under the chairmanship of the Financial Secretary.

6. The Chairman however pointed out that the proposed reuse of land in the urban area for mixed development was at variance with LTHS, under which only new formed land would be used for such a purpose. He also considered that it would be a policy change if existing PRH sites were to be put up for sale to private developers after demolition, and that the Administration should consult the public again in this respect. PAS for H/HS took note of the Chairman's concern but reiterated that a concrete policy on mixed development had yet to be worked out in the light of the outcome of the pilot scheme. The Chairman explicitly requested the Administration to conduct a consultation if PRH estates were to be provided for mixed or private development. PAS for H/HS responded that the Administration would consider members' view and would consult the public on major policy changes.

7. A member remarked that private developers might not be interested in mixed development as they might find it difficult to determine the sale prices for the two different groups of flats within a development. Another member opined that the Administration should re-consider the feasibility of mixed development in view of the declining demand for subsidized home ownership flats as a result of the recent fall in prices of the private residential property market. He was of the view that more resources should be used to increase the production of PRH flats so as to achieve the pledge for reducing the average waiting time for PRH. In response, PAS for H/HS emphasized that the objective of mixed development was to improve the quality of subsidized home ownership flats.

The use of the site of San Fat Estate upon demolition

8. Disputing the Administration's assurance that no other sites had been considered for mixed development, a member pointed out that a government official had confirmed that the Housing Department (HD) had already entered into a dialogue with the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) on the possibility of a joint venture by way of mixed development for the site of San Fat Estate (SFE) upon redevelopment. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Lands) (PASPEL/L) reiterated that land on which estates were located was only vested in HA. When the PRH estates were cleared under the redevelopment programme, HA might not keep the land as the Government had the right to take it back for other development purposes. The role of HD was confined to re-housing the affected residents and returning a cleared site to the Government. Although arrangements had been made for KCRC to build a public transport interchange for the future West Rail (WR) Tuen Mun Centre Station on the site, the Government had not yet decided on the development above the transport exchange.

9. As to whether KCRC had the right for future property development at the interchange site, PASPEL/L advised that KCRC would be vested with the right for construction of the necessary works in connection with the interchange only. Nevertheless, under the Draft Project Agreement for the Financing, Design, Construction and Operations of the West Rail between the Government and KCRC, KCRC was allowed to make use of the development potential along WR. The Draft Project Agreement was enclosed in the financial proposal on an equity injection of $29,000 million into KCRC submitted for approval by the Finance Committee of the Provisional Legislative Council at its meeting on 27 February 1998. PASPEL/L confirmed that KCRC would need to make an application for the grant of the development before it was allowed to carry out property developments along WR.

10. On re-housing arrangement for SFE residents, BD/A&M advised that HA had included SFE in the Comprehensive Redevelopment Programme (CRP) in 1988, and later announced in the 1996 "Five-Year Redevelopment Programme" that SFE would be redeveloped in 2000-01. Under the prevailing policy, HA would re-house residents affected by CRP within the same district as far as resources permitted. Tuen Mun Area 52 had been designated as the reception estate for SFE where 3,000 PRH and 2,200 Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats would be built. Together with the casual vacancies in nearby estates, there would be adequate units to re-house residents affected by SFE redevelopment. To alleviate SFE residents' concern on re-housing, an inter-departmental working group comprising representatives of the District Office (Tuen Mun), HD, Social Welfare Department (SWD) and Transport Department had been set up to assist the tenants in the removal exercise.

11. In view of the long Waiting List (WL) and the inadequate supply of land for PRH, a member asked if HA had requested for retention of the site above the interchange for building PRH flats. BD/A&M replied that HA was committed to identifying sufficient land for PRH. However, it would be for the Government to consider the future use of the SFE site taking into account other competing demands. The main role of HD was to re-house those affected by the redevelopment. The member was not convinced of the Administration's response. He remained of the view that HA should urge the Government to redevelop the site for PRH purpose.

12. To ascertain the accuracy of the press report referred in paragraph 5 and to facilitate a better understanding on the discussion between HA and KCRC in respect of the future development of the SFE site, members agreed that the Chairman of HA should be asked to provide a detailed explanation on these issues.

(Post-meeting note: A letter to the Chairman of HA was issued on 8 October 1998 and HA's response was circulated vide CB(1) 398/98-99.)

V Re-housing of bedspace apartment dwellers

Meeting with the Wanchai Cage House Problems Resident Concern Group
(LC Paper No. CB(1) 264/98-99(03))

13. Representatives of the Wanchai Cage House Problems Resident Concern Group considered that the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance (the Ordinance) was not able to improve the existing living conditions in bedspace apartments (BSAs), particularly in respect of safety. By way of illustration, the prescribed width of 650 millimetres (mm) for internal passageways in BSAs was insufficient to facilitate safe escape in the event of fire or other emergency. They were also of the view that the Ordinance failed to address the problem of overcrowding in BSAs. For example, the BSA at 6/F, 345 Hennessy Road, Wanchai with a floor area of 600 square feet had accommodated 36 lodgers. To improve the living conditions of BSA lodgers, the Concern Group urged the Administration to stipulate in the Ordinance the minimum living space for individual lodger based on the prevailing space allocation standards of five-and-a-half to seven square metres per person for PRH; expedite the re-housing process for lodgers aged 58 and above; build more singleton hostels for lodgers aged below 58; use vacant PRH flats to resettle lodgers in the short term; increase the production of single-person PRH flats to re-house all the lodgers in the long term; and announce a long-term re-housing plan for BSA lodgers without the need to register on WL.

Meeting with the Administration
(LC Paper No. CB(1) 264/98-99(05))

14. Despite the fact that the exemption period had been extended to allow sufficient time for the inspection and improvement works to be carried out by the Office of the Licensing Authority of the Home Affairs Department (HAD) and BSAs respectively, members were disappointed that little progress had been made so far to improve the well-being of BSA lodgers. The situation was further aggravated with the increase in the number of illegal BSAs and cubicle apartments of which the living environment was even worse and beyond the control of the existing legislation. They considered that the Administration should conduct a comprehensive survey on BSAs, including those illegal ones, to ascertain the actual population size of BSA lodgers in Hong Kong and their need for re-housing to hostels and public housing. The Deputy Director of Home Affairs (DDHA) advised that as at 1 September 1998, of the 97 BSAs registered with the Licensing Authority, 63 had been licensed, accommodating 1,189 lodgers, and 34 had not submitted an application for a licence. The latter group had 675 lodgers. HAD did not have information on those BSAs which had not registered with the Licensing Authority. Referring to a survey conducted by a non-governmental organization, DDHA said that he could not confirm the figure of 10,000 lodgers, but he believed that the figure included those living in cubicles. In the meantime, HAD would conduct a survey on BSAs in districts known to have a high number of BSA lodgers.

15. Members were also concerned about the loopholes found in the Ordinance. The Chairman pointed out that the existing provisions of the Ordinance only applied to premises with 12 or more bedspaces under separate rental agreements. In other words, a BSA that had been partitioned into small cubicles for rent and the number of separate rental agreements was less than 12 was not required to comply with the provisions under the Ordinance, despite the fact that there might be more than 12 bedspaces in the entire apartment. DDHA responded that bedspaces within each cubicle were subject to the regulation under the Ordinance if the bedspaces were rented out individually, and the Government did not intend to propose specific legislation to regulate cubicle apartments.

16. On building and fire safety standards, a member asked if the Administration would consider increasing the prescribed width of internal passageways in BSAs to ensure safe escape in the event of emergency. This was particularly important for BSAs with a dense population of lodgers. The Deputy Director of Home Affairs (DDHA) explained that all licensed BSAs had to abide by the standards and requirements relating to building and fire safety provisions under the Ordinance. These included prohibition of installation of triple bunk beds; all internal passageways and doors in passageways should have a minimum width of not less than 650 mm; and the maximum travel distance from the farthest point of BSA to the main exit door or to the point where escape was possible in two directions should not exceed 18 metres etc. He nevertheless undertook to examine the need to increase the prescribed width of internal passageways. As to whether the BSA referred to in paragraph 13 had complied with the safety requirements under the Ordinance, the Chief Officer/Office of the Licensing Authority (Acting) said that although the said premises was a licensed BSA, a site inspection on its actual layout had to be carried out to ensure that the safety standards had been maintained.

17. On the suggestion of regulating the minimum individual living space in BSAs, members concurred that this would help eradicate the long-standing overcrowding problem of BSAs which had long been the focus of international criticism. Members requested that the Administration should seriously consider such a proposal. In reply, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PASHA) stressed that the Administration had no intention to outlaw BSAs or the renting of bedspaces since there was still a demand for this type of low-cost and conveniently-located accommodation in the community. Moreover, it would not be appropriate for the Administration to propose legislation to regulate the minimum, or indeed the maximum living space for individuals in private premises. The Government considered that a person's living space should be determined according to the market conditions, economy, personal finance and preference. In addition, the regulation, even if prescribed, would be difficult to enforce. Members however were not convinced of the Administration's explanation as BSAs were no ordinary private premises but were subject to the control of the Ordinance. Besides, it was not uncommon for the Administration to prescribe a standard of minimum living space under certain circumstances. The mandatory provision of living space not less than three by six feet for imported labour was a case in point.

18. On re-housing of BSA lodgers, members noted the re-housing provision and arrangements listed in the information paper provided by the Administration. A member however considered it unfair if displaced lodgers had the priority for re-housing to singleton hostels over their counterparts in unlicensed BSAs. DDHA explained that such an arrangement was in line with the Administration's undertaking that no lodgers in BSAs registered with the Licensing Authority would become homeless as a result of the implementation of the Ordinance.

19. As regards the half-yearly visits to registered BSAs by SWD, some members considered that the visits should be more frequent so that timely assistance could be offered to the elderly lodgers. While acknowledging the member's concern, the Assistant Director of Social Welfare (ADSW) clarified that the purpose of the regular visits was to ensure that all elderly lodgers in BSAs, including new comers and those who had been omitted in previous visits, were aware of the services provided by SWD. Visits to lodgers requiring casework service were however conducted more frequently on need basis. As regards the time required for re-housing elderly lodgers to welfare institutions or public housing estates through compassionate re-housing, ADSW advised that the speed of processing the applications would depend on individual circumstances. If eligible lodgers were willing to accept compassionate re-housing, SWD would complete the relevant assessment and recommendation to HD within six weeks. Upon receipt of the recommendation, the Assistant Director of Housing (AD of H) said that HD would invite the applicants concerned to attend an interview to ascertain their financial capability and choice of locations of the PRH flats required. This would take another three weeks to complete the process.

20. Addressing members' concern on the long waiting time for PRH of nine years for BSA lodgers aged below 58, AD of H attributed this to the limited supply of single-person PRH flats. Although efforts had been made to increase the supply of these flats over the next few years by various measures such as reviewing the flat mix in new PRH estates, constructing a supplementary wing of small flats in existing PRH estates and new Harmony PRH blocks as well as converting small PRH flats to single-person flats, the supply would still be insufficient to meet the increasing demand. As such, priority was given to the elderly in the allocation of single-person PRH flats and other applicants would have to wait longer. AD of H nevertheless assured members that it remained the Administration's objective to reduce the average waiting time for PRH to three years by the year 2005. On the number of BSA lodgers who were also applicants on the Waiting List (WL), PAS for Housing (2) (Acting) advised that there was no classification in the WL to differentiate BSA lodgers from other applicants. Nevertheless, the Administration had been encouraging lodgers to apply for PRH. HD had set up Housing Information Centres in districts with high concentration of old tenement buildings to facilitate people to register on WL. Staff of the Centres also conducted home visits to BSAs to assist lodgers to apply for PRH. So far, 315 lodgers had registered on WL with HD's assistance.

21. As regards the occupancy rate for HAD's singleton hostels, DDHA advised that of the some 500 spaces available for occupation, only 150 had been taken up. However, the Administration anticipated that the occupancy rate would gradually increase after the implementation of the Ordinance in 1 July 1998. A member attributed the low occupancy rate to the stringent rules and regulations on their opening and visiting hours. He urged the Administration to relax these rules to attract more residents. DDHA confirmed that lodgers in HAD's singleton hostels were requested to observe some basic rules, but these were reasonable and necessary to maintain peace and harmony amongst the residents. He added that lodgers were given keys of the entrance doors and were allowed access to the hostels during night hours provided that they did not disturb the other lodgers. Visitors to the singleton hostel at Tak Nga House were however required to indicate the purpose of their visits and obtain the lodgers' permission before entry for security reasons.

22. To facilitate a better understanding on the living conditions of lodgers, the Clerk was requested to arrange a site visit to the BSA at 6/F, 345 Hennessy Road and the HAD's singleton hostel at Tak Nga House in Wanchai.

(Post-meeting note: The visit was held on Friday, 30 October 1998.)

VI Any other business

23. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 7:05 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
28 December 1998