Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 102/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/M/6

Minutes of Special Briefing for Members
held on 9 July 1998 from 9:00 am to 10:00 am

Members present :

Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP(House Committee Chairman)
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum(House Committee Deputy Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon HUI Cheung-ching
Hon Bernard Charnwut CHAN
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Public Officers attending :

Ms CHANG King-yiu
Deputy Secretary for Security

Mr TSANG Kwong-yu
Deputy Director of Fire Services

Mr HSU King-ping
Chief Fire Officer, Fire Services Department

Mr Francis LO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr HO Cham
Assistant Director of Buildings

Mr LAI Hon-chung
Ag Chief Electrical and Mechanical Engineer, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Justina LAM
Assistant Secretary General 2

Staff in attendance :

Mr Jimmy Y T MA,
JP Legal Adviser

Mr LAW Wing-lok
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)5

Mrs Eleanor CHOW
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)8

1. The Chairman said that the special briefing was arranged at the request of the Administration to brief Members on the consultation paper on "Proposals to improve fire safety in private buildings". He added that as this was not a meeting of a committee of the Council, Members were not covered by the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance.

2. Deputy Secretary for Security (DS for S) gave an outline of the major areas of deficiency in fire safety in private buildings and the proposed improvement measures detailed in the consultation paper.

3. DS for S said that the occurrence of several tragic fires in the past few years had resulted in progressive steps being taken to improve fire safety in commercial premises or buildings. The Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance [FS(CP)O], which came into operation in May 1997, required prescribed commercial premises to upgrade their fire safety measures to modern standards. The Fire Services (Commercial Premises) (Amendment) Ordinance came into operation in June 1998 to extend the coverage of the FS(CP)O to pre-1987 commercial buildings to improve their fire safety.

4. To facilitate the formulation of the strategy to improve fire safety in private buildings, the Fire Services Department (FSD), Buildings Department (BD) and Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) had undertaken separate surveys to assess the fire safety conditions in different types of private buildings in the early part of this year. According to FSD's survey, only 28% of private buildings had their fire service installations (FSIs) and fire safety management rated as satisfactory. The survey also revealed that the presence of building management bodies, in the form of an owners' corporation (OC) or a property management company, helped to enable better management of fire safety measures. Among all types of private buildings, the fire safety condition in composite (commercial/residential) buildings was the most unsatisfactory. Only 11% of the 14 977 composite buildings surveyed were found to be satisfactory.

5. The survey conducted by BD revealed that the main deficiencies were in such areas as means of escape and fireman's access. Similar to the findings of FSD's survey, the overall fire safety condition in composite buildings was considered the least satisfactory, with 80% of buildings being found with deficiencies in exit routes. The BD had proposed a phased programme to demolish unauthorized rooftop structures (URSs) in single staircase buildings as a matter of priority.

6. The EMSD's survey revealed that only 21% of the buildings surveyed were found to have their communal electrical installations in satisfactory condition, and 20% would require major rectification. 7. As the fire safety condition in composite buildings was considered the most unsatisfactory, enforcement actions would be stepped up by the relevant departments to ensure early removal of fire hazards identified in these buildings. The enforcement departments would require responsible owners and residents to restore and reinstate the building fire safety measures and structures to satisfactory conditions. If the responsible owners failed to carry out the necessary works, the departments concerned might invoke statutory powers to carry out the works on their behalf and recover the costs from them.

8. DS for S further said that two proposals relating to strengthening building management had been made to improve fire safety in private buildings. One of the proposals was to amend the Building Management Ordinance (BMO) to provide for specific building management standards, sanctions against non-compliance and a certification scheme. The Home Affairs Department (HAD) was also pursuing the concept of mandatory management of buildings, which would enable the Secretary for Home Affairs (SHA) to order the owners of problematic buildings to effect building management measures and employ building managers if necessary. The other proposal was that the Administration would consider the automatic formation of OCs and the feasibility of applying this modality to new buildings, having regard to relevant overseas legislation.

9. A proposal had also been made to upgrade fire safety standards in different types of private buildings in phases. The first phase would involve a ten-year programme which aimed at improving the fire safety standards of composite buildings in two stages, dealing with about 5000 pre-1973 composite buildings in Stage I (six years) and about 4000 1973-1987 composite buildings in Stage II (four years). This would be followed by an improvement programme targetting at about 3000 pre-1987 residential (above three storeys) buildings, with priority given to dealing with pre-1973 buildings first. After completion of the priority programmes for composite and residential buildings, a phased-programme would be undertaken to deal with about 650 pre-1973 industrial buildings first, following which actions would be taken to tackle about 1 000 1973-1987 industrial buildings.

10. DS for S added that in order to facilitate building owners to upgrade the fire safety standards of their buildings, the Administration would consider the need for providing financial assistance along the lines of the Fire Safety Improvement Loan Scheme for prescribed commercial premises and specified commercial buildings and the Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme for composite and residential buildings.

11. DS for S informed members that the two-month public consultation period on the proposals set out in the consultation paper would end on 24 August 1998. The Administration would brief the Panel on Security in due course on the outcome of the public consultation.

12. The Chairman invited members' views on the proposals detailed in the consultation paper.

13. Mr Edward HO pointed out that the FS(CP)O which was enacted in May 1997 required certain commercial premises such as banks, supermarkets and shopping arcades to upgrade their fire safety standards. This was followed by the enactment of the 1998 Amendment Ordinance which extended the coverage of the FS(CP)O to pre-1987 commercial buildings to improve their fire safety. The Administration had now, within a short period of time after the Amendment Ordinance was passed in March this year, put forward proposals seeking to improve fire safety in other types of private buildings. He considered that this piecemeal approach adopted by the Administration was most unsatisfactory. He was also concerned about the lack of manpower resources in dealing with the fire safety problems identified in the surveys.

14. DS for S said that the Administration had adopted a step-by-step approach to improve fire safety in private buildings. Priority was given to tackling commercial premises or buildings in view of the large flow of people and higher population density in these premises and buildings. The package of proposals set out in the consultation paper were intended to bring about an overall improvement to the fire safety conditions in other types of private building. If the views expressed during the consultation period indicated there was wide public support of the proposals, necessary legislation would be drafted and resources obtained to implement the proposals in phases.

15. In response to Mr Howard YOUNG, Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PAS/HA) said that it would be difficult to implement retrospectively the proposal relating to automatic formation of OCs in existing buildings. He pointed out that the HAD, through its liaison network in the districts, had been actively encouraging and assisting owners of existing buildings to form OCs under the BMO to manage their buildings. These efforts were continuing.

16. Mr David CHU suggested that short-term improvement measures such as the provision of rope-ladders and loudhailers to OCs or other building management bodies could be considered. He said that more should be done to promote fire safety awareness apart from encouraging building owners to form building management bodies on a voluntary basis. DS for S said that the departments concerned would work closely with building management bodies to tackle building fire safety problems and promote a fire safety culture in the community. Public education campaigns on fire safety, particularly those targetting at the younger generation, would be stepped up and building management bodies would be encouraged to organize fire drills.

17. In response to Mr LEE Kai-ming, Assistant Director of Buildings said that BD would liaise with the Housing Department on the arrangements for providing alternative accommodation to those who would be displaced as a result of the demolition of URSs. The Chairman said that the issue would be followed up by the Panel on Security. CAS(2)1

18. Mr Ronald ARCULLI raised a query as to whether compensation would be paid to individual owners of commercial premises or residential buildings who were required by the enforcement departments to carry out fire safety improvement works, which resulted in a reduction in the floor area of the premises concerned. DS for S said that this involved complex issues which needed to be looked into by the departments concerned. The Chairman said that the Panel on Security would follow up on the matter. CAS(2)1

19. Mr TSANG Yok-shing said that in addition to intensifying publicity efforts to promote fire safety awareness, the Administration should also carry out regular inspections on buildings to identify deficiencies in fire safety measures. Deputy Director of Fire Services said that FSD had carried out some 20 000 follow-up inspections after the survey undertaken earlier this year. About 7 000 abatement notices for the removal of fire hazards were issued to those buildings in which fire hazards were identified. FSD would carry out regular inspections on these buildings to ensure that fire safety regulations were complied with. DS for S added that FSD, BD and HAD would also carry out joint on-site inspections to identify fire safety deficiencies in private buildings and draw up a standard list of inspection items in simple laymen terms to facilitate inspection being carried by building owners or residents themselves.

20. In response to Mr James TO, PAS(HA) said that according to overseas legislation on automatic formation of OCs, the authority concerned could appoint a person to convene a meeting of a management committee, for the purpose of setting up an OC for the building. It appeared that there was no provision in such legislation stipulating that building owners who failed to comply with the requirement to form OCs would be subject to penalty. Much of course would depend on the ability and willingness of the owners themselves to participate in running their OCs and management of their buildings.

21. Mrs Selina CHOW said that under the proposed phased programme for tackling fire safety problems in private buildings, pre-1973 residential buildings having potential fire hazards would not be dealt with until after the 10-year programme to improve the fire safety standards of composite buildings was completed. She asked whether the Administration would consider engaging competent personnel in the private sector to undertake works on upgrading FSIs and building fire safety construction of composite buildings, so as to reduce the long period of time taken for dealing with composite buildings. This would enable the Government to tackle pre-1973 residential buildings earlier.

22. DS for S said that consideration would be given to bringing forward the time frame for dealing with pre-1973 residential buildings if the majority of the views received during the consultation period were in favour of the Administration taking steps to tackle these buildings as a matter of top priority.

23. Miss Cyd HO expressed concern about the concept of compulsory or mandatory building management proposed in paragraphs 28 and 29 of the consultation paper. She asked whether such a concept would have human rights implications and what criteria would be adopted in determining the liability of building owners for not complying with building management measures stipulated by SHA.

24. The Chairman said that the issues raised by Miss Cyd HO should be followed up by the Panel on Security. CAS(2)1

25. The Chairman thanked the representatives of the Administration for attending the special briefing session. The meeting ended at 10:00 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
24 July 1998