Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)370
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)


Panel on Planning, Lands and Works

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 26 September 1997, at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP (Chairman)
Hon KAN Fook-yee (Deputy Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEUNG Chun-ying, JP
Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Members absent :

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon LAU Wong-fat, JP
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP

Public officers attending :

Item IV

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

Mr CHENG Wei-dart
Director of Buildings (Acting)
Buildings Department

Mr LEUNG Shiu-hong
Assistant Director/Control
Buildings Department

Item V

Mr LAU Kwok-choi
Principal Assistant Secretary (Policy & Development)
Works Bureau

Mr CHUNG Kwok-leung
Director of Drainage Services (Acting)

Mr Clement Y L LAU
Assistant Director of Drainage Services
(Trading Fund)

Assistant Director of Environmental Protection
(Waste & Water) (Acting)

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :
Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)101 and 241)

The minutes of meetings held on 22 July and 29 August 1997 were confirmed.

II.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2.Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next regular Panel meeting scheduled for 24 October 1997 -

  1. Capital Works Reserve Fund, Block Allocations 1998/99; and

  2. Task Force (Black Spots).

3.A member requested the Administration to expedite review of the small house policy in the light of recent assaults on Lands Officers in the course of discharging duties in connection with small house applications. The Panel Clerk would follow up the matter with the Administration.Clerk

[Post-meeting note : a letter relaying the member's request was sent to the Administration on 29 September 1997.]

III.Information papers issued since last meeting

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

IV.Building Safety Inspection Scheme
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)256(01))

5.At the invitation of the Chairman, the Acting Director of Buildings (D of B (Atg)) briefly explained the need for introduction of the Building Safety Inspection Scheme (BSIS). Unsatisfactory maintenance standard of aged buildings in Hong Kong and reluctance of building owners to carry out voluntarily safety inspections of their property had made it necessary to impose a mandatory inspection scheme. Should timely preventive action not be taken to identify and fix defects of aged buildings, more buildings would become potentially dangerous. The draft technical details of BSIS had been relayed to the building professional bodies for comments. The public consultation period for BSIS would end on 31 October 1997. The following summarized public response received so far -

  1. Members of the public generally supported the spirit of the Scheme;

  2. The Government should set up a fund to assist owners having financial difficulties in effecting repairs;

  3. Owners' corporations should be enlisted to assist in implementing the Scheme;

  4. The Government should carry out a general appraisal of buildings subject to the Scheme, whereas owners would be responsible for detailed investigation if deemed necessary;

  5. A mechanism should be put in place to monitor charges imposed by building professionals for building inspections; and

  6. Conflicting views had been received on whether unauthorized building works (UBWs) should be demolished in the course of inspection.

Levels of inspection

6.On the Chairman's enquiry about the extent of inspection required, D of B (Atg) explained that there would be two levels of inspection, namely general appraisal and detailed investigation. General appraisals would concentrate on the integrity of external finishes, structural stability and adequacy of fire escapes. Detailed investigations which might be confined to certain parts of a building would only be necessary if recommended by the Authorised Person (AP) and supported by the Buildings Department (BD).

7.Addressing the Chairman's concern about the reliability of a general appraisal by visual inspection in cases of embedded or hidden structural elements, for example, those covered by false ceilings, D of B (Atg) explained that in assessing the safety of a building, the AP should inspect its relevant parts in accordance with the technical guidelines provided by BD. Although some structural elements might be concealed, it was rather unlikely that all relevant parts of a building were covered and could not be inspected visually.

Unauthorized building structures

8.On the question as to whether demolition of UBWs should form part of BSIS, D of B (Atg) explained that divergent comments had been received. Some persons were in favour of clearing UBWs as part of BSIS, while others preferred to adhere to the current priority system of clearance. Under the current policy, UBWs which posed a hazard to structural safety of buildings would be demolished immediately. Presently there were about 800,000 to 1,000,000 UBWs in Hong Kong and clearance was proceeding at a rate of 15,000 to 20,000 per year. The proposed BSIS did not aim at clearing UBWs which would be considered as part of a building. However, the implementation of the Scheme would certainly assist in detecting the safety of UBWs. In conducting a general appraisal, the AP would examine the structural safety of the UBWs in question before deciding on the need and the priority for clearance. The Administration would consider the final outcome of the consultation before taking a stance on the matter.

Availability of APs and RSEs

9.Members were concerned about the availability of APs and Registered Structural Engineers (RSEs) to inspect buildings and their readiness to shoulder the statutory responsibilities entailed by BSIS. D of B (Atg) said that the technical guidelines would provide certainty on the requirements of the Scheme. In the Administration's view, recruitment of APs and RSEs for BSIS should not be a problem. At present there were about 1,200 APs and 400 RSEs in Hong Kong and a survey was being conducted on their willingness to participate in BSIS. The Administration would analyze the results of the survey in determining the manpower situation. He assured members that the Administration would render necessary assistance to building professionals should they encounter difficulties in effecting the requirements of BSIS, in particular on resettlement matters associated with clearance of UBWs. The Administration would provide the Panel with further information on the manpower situation prior to introduction of the relevant bill. The Administration also noted a member's concern about the onerous responsibility imposed on APs and RSEs in their individual capacity in assessing the safety of buildings and agreed to consider the option of company liability.

10.Addressing the concern about sufficiency of resources to manage BSIS having regard to the cumulative effect brought about by the increasing number of buildings reaching 20 years, D of B (Atg) reckoned that every year some 600 more buildings became 20 years old. These buildings would be regularly appraised in cycles of five, seven, or ten years depending on their usage. The Administration would implement BSIS by phases. The Scheme would cover 1,000 buildings in the first year, gradually increasing to 3,000 buildings per year in the course of time. Additional manpower resources would be required and the Administration was working out ways to meet resource requirements. In the Administration's view, after the initial appraisal and the necessary remedial works, subsequent appraisals would probably require less resources as much of the ground work had already been done and put on record. Depending on the progress of implementation, the Administration would review the situation.

Establishment of a Government Fund

11.A member opined that persons residing in aged and dilapidated buildings would ill-afford the financial burden imposed by BSIS and suggested that the Administration should conduct a general appraisal of buildings in order to narrow down the number of those requiring repair works. Another member suggested setting up a fund for maintenance of aged buildings.

12.In response, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (PAS/PEL) stressed that it was owners' responsibility to maintain and repair their property. The Administration acknowledged the concern of District Boards and the general public about difficulties of some owners in meeting the costs of appraisal, investigation and repairs incurred under BSIS, and was considering how this issue should be addressed. The Chairman opined that the Administration should not only address the problems of inability but also reluctance of owners to pay.

13.On the suggestion of setting up of a government fund to finance maintenance and repair of aged buildings, D of B (Atg) confirmed that the Administration was considering the establishment of a Rehabilitation Fund to, among others, assist owners of aged buildings in meeting costs of repair.

Maintenance responsibility

14.Responding to a member's concern about the need to introduce legislation to differentiate the responsibility of maintenance and repair between tenants and landlords, which was often not clearly defined, D of B (Atg) said that as far as the orders for repairs were concerned, these were directed to owners and not tenants. In response to members, the Administration agreed to consider providing a clear definition about owners' responsibility to maintain and repair their buildings in the relevant bill.

Scope of BSIS

15.While members noted the need for BSIS, they had reservations about drawing the line at buildings of 20 years. In response, D of B (Atg) provided the following information in support of the proposed building age -

  1. most complaints on building safety were directed towards buildings aged 20 or over;

  2. as shown by statistics, notices of repairs issued by the Buildings Department were in respect of buildings aged 20 or over; and

  3. with the introduction of more stringent building requirements, the standards of buildings built after mid-1970s were found to have improved.

16.Referring to the information provided by the Administration (re: para 9 of the paper), a member noted with concern the high cost of BSIS. According to the estimate provided in the consultation paper, for a typical 25-storey residential building with 200 units, the cost to each individual household would be about $11,000 over a 7-year period, if both levels of inspection were required. Owners would have to spend a total of about $2.2 million for the mere purpose of inspecting a building, not to mention the cost of repairs. Given some 300,000 units in buildings aged 20 or over, the total cost of inspection would amount to over $3 billion. Theoretically the need for repairs should be directly proportional to the building age. To increase the cost effectiveness of the Scheme, the member was of the view that the scope of BSIS should be narrowed down to older buildings, say 30 years. Another member shared the same view and added that a more restrictive scope would significantly reduce the number of buildings subject to inspection, hence saving much manpower and resources. He also suggested that irrespective of the building age at which the line would be drawn, the Administration should retain the authority to order a general appraisal and/or detailed investigation on any buildings should this be deemed necessary.

17.D of B (Atg) thanked members for their valuable comments and agreed to reconsider the scope of BSIS. He supplemented that about 50% of buildings in Hong Kong were over 20 years and less than 30% over 30 years.

18.Members noted that additional information on BSIS was provided in a booklet entitled *An introduction to the Building Safety Inspection Scheme* and requested the Administration to provide them with copies.Admin.

[Post-meeting note : the booklet had been circulated to members vide PLC Paper No. CB(1)302]

V.Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme Stage I Tunnelling Works
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)256(02))

19.With the aid of a visualiser, the Director of Drainage Services (Acting) (D of DS (Atg)) briefed members on the progress of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS) Stage I works, highlighting the salient points of the paper.

20.On the Chairman's enquiry about the basis upon which the original contractor for the six-tunnel projects was selected, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (PAS/W) replied that the contractor was selected through normal tendering process. D of DS (Atg) supplemented that the contractor for the project, the French - Japanese joint venture Campenon Bernard Maeda, was chosen because it had a very good track record in tunnelling works. The French company had participated in the tunnelling works at the British Channel and had offered very attractive terms. This explained why the joint venture company had succeeded in obtaining the two tunnelling contracts in 1994. However, with the benefit of hindsight, the Administration had re-grouped the six-tunnel projects into three completion contracts for re-tendering and had imposed a rule that no more than two contracts should be awarded to the same contractor.

21.In the light of the incident, the Chairman considered it necessary to review the tendering process, requiring submission of detailed information to ensure completion of the tendered project on time and within the estimated cost. The tender price should not be the sole consideration in the award of contracts as bidders might put forward exceptionally low but unrealistic price in order to get the contract. Bidders had to demonstrate that the price quoted was reasonable and achievable.

22.In response, D of DS (Atg) informed that the Administration had put in much effort in re-tendering the remaining tunnelling works. Before awarding the contract in July 1997, bidders had been invited to explain how they planned to proceed with the works. The Administration was satisfied that the works could be completed on time and within budget.

23.Members expressed grave concern over the alarming increase in the estimated cost of constructing the six underground sewage tunnels from $1.3 to $3.3 billion. They demanded a thorough explanation from the Administration.

24.PAS/W explained that about 45% of the increase was attributed to increases in contract prices and inflation; 25% to the need to re-mobilise resources and reprovision tunnel boring machines; and 20% to the cost of engaging separate contractors to provide maintenance and security services for the existing tunnel sites, together with legal and consultancy fees. In response to members, the Administration agreed to provide a detailed breakdown on the revised cost in its paper to the Finance Committee when seeking funding approval.Admin.

25.On the viability of the project, PAS/W said that prior to the re-entry of the sites in December 1996, the Administration had consulted both legal and geotechnical experts, on the viability of the project. It was concluded that the project was viable, and one contract had since been awarded in July 1997 for the completion of two tunnels. D of DS (Atg) pointed out that as shown by past records, tunnelling works of even higher complexity under this project was completed well on time.

26.Responding to a member's suggestion of securing a bond or deposit from the contractors to safeguard against similar recurrences, PAS/W said that this was not a normal government practice and would have financial implications. Nevertheless, he agreed to consider the suggestion. D of DS (Atg) also confirmed that for financial control of the works, payment would be released to the contractors by phases upon completion of different stages of works on a milestone basis.

27.As regards the question of claims, PAS/W said that the Administration intended to pursue a claim for losses arising from the re-entry of the two tunnel contracts including the additional costs for completing the tunnelling works. The Administration would make a claim after the additional costs for the completion of the tunnelling works were known.

28.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
21 October 1997