Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)1805/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/PLW/1

LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works

Minutes of meeting
held on Thursday, 13 May 1999, at 4:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP (Chairman)
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo

Members absent :

Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Public officers attending :

For items IV & V

Mr CHAN Wing-sang, JP
Deputy Secretary for Works
(Works Policy)

Mr KWONG Hing-ip
Chief Assistant Secretary for Works
(Technical Services)

For item IV

Mr LAI Fuk-kan
Assistant Director/Project and Development
Drainage Services Department

Mr SHIU Wing-yu
Chief Engineer/Project Management
Drainage Services Department

For item V

Mr LEUNG Mang-chiu
Assistant Director of Water Supplies (New Works)
Water Supplies Department

Mr NG Mang-tung, Bobby
Chief Engineer (Project Management)
Water Supplies Department

For item VI

Mr Stephen FISHER
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment
and Lands (Urban Renewal)

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

Director of Buildings

Mr Philip LAU
Assistant Director of Buildings (Specialist)

Assistant Director of Lands (Estate Management)

Principal Land Executive
(Village Improvement and Control)
Lands Department

Attendance by invitation :

The Hong Kong Institute of Architects

Mr Barry WILL

Mr Anthony NG
Chairman of Board of Local Affairs

The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

Ir WONG Chi-ming
Representative of Structural Discipline

Ir SIU Man-po
Chairman of Building Division

The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors

Mr Samson WONG

Mr David CHAN
Chairman of Membership Committee

Chairman of Technical Advisory Panel

Mr Barnabas CHUNG
Chairman of Education Committee

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
(LC Paper Nos. CB(1)1207 and 1231/98-99)

The minutes of joint meetings with Environmental Affairs Panel on 5 February 1999 and with Housing Panel on 30 March 1999 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next Panel meeting scheduled for 10 June 1999 -

  1. Tsuen Wan Bay Further Reclamation;

  2. Slope safety; and

  3. Policy on mitigation of traffic noise from roads (the subject was referred by the Public Works Subcommittee)

III Information papers issued since last meeting

3. Members noted the following information papers which were issued since the last meeting -

LC Paper No. CB(1)1256/98-99 - Conversion of three supernumerary posts to permanent posts in the Geotechnical Engineering Office of the Civil Engineering Department; and

LC Paper No. CB(1)1308/98-99 - Comments from the Urban Watch on the Town Planning Bill.

IV West Kowloon Drainage Improvement stages 2 and 3
(LC Paper No. CB(1)1296/98-99(02))

4. With the aid of a computer, the Chief Engineer/Project Management, Drainage Services Department (CE/DSD) explained the Administration's proposed strategy to solve the flooding problem in West Kowloon and the development of an implementation programme as set out in the information paper. He highlighted that the original strategy for West Kowloon stages 2 and 3 drainage improvement works which required the construction of two deep box culverts through the heavily built-up areas of Mongkok had been critically reviewed and was found to be highly disruptive to the public. The review recommended a revision of the implementation strategy which included the construction of a flood storage tank underneath the Tai Hang Tung Recreation Ground (the Tai Hang Tung Flood Storage Scheme), a stormwater transfer tunnel from Kowloon Tong to San Po Kong (the Kai Tak Transfer Scheme) and a second tunnel intercepting hillside stormwater away from West Kowloon (the Lai Chi Kok Transfer Scheme).

5. Noting the proposal to construct tunnels to convey stormwater, the Chairman enquired about the viability of housing other public utilities in these tunnels to facilitate maintenance and repair, thereby minimising road opening works and disruption to the public. He pointed out that years ago, Japan started to accommodate underground utilities in a tunnel.

6. The Deputy Secretary for Works (DS/W) said that when reviewing stages 2 and 3 of the West Kowloon drainage improvement works, the consultant engineer had circulated the proposed work and programme to all concerned departments and utility companies for comment. There had not been any adverse feedback so far. The Chief Assistant Secretary for Works (CAS/W) added that the feasibility of constructing an underground box culvert to house all facilities had been examined. Such an approach would require considerable financial resources. It was estimated roughly that the cost of constructing such a culvert for a new town was comparable to the construction cost of phase I of the Mass Transit Railway project. Besides, whilst underground facilities could be housed within a communal tunnel, there would still be a need to connect these utilities to individual buildings. Thus, certain section of an utility must extend beyond the tunnel. The Assistant Director (Project and Development), Drainage Services Department (AD/DSD) said that the Drainage Services Department had not considered including other utilities in the drainage tunnels because when the tunnels were filled with stormwater, it would be difficult to undertake maintenance and repair of utilities.

7. The Chairman said that the cost of building a large tunnel to house all utilities was inevitably high. However, the Administration should weigh the cost against public benefits and consider the matter on a policy level. CAS/W said that where it was considered appropriate, the Administration did include utilities in a tunnel, as in the case of the Lion Rock Tunnel. For heavily built-up old districts, it would be difficult to find additional space to accommodate a large box culvert to house all utility structures. Moreover, a major change to the underground utilities would be highly disruptive to the public. DS/W said that the Administration noted members' view and would consider the merits and the viability of housing public utilities within tunnels.

8. Mr James TO noted with concern the drastic change to the original drainage improvement strategy and sought information on the comparative impact of the original and the revised strategies on traffic. CE/DSD advised that the original strategy of building new drains to convey and discharge the flood water to the sea would be highly disruptive to traffic. Roads would have to be blocked during the execution of the works in the heavily built-up areas of West Kowloon, especially in Mongkok where two large box culverts were proposed to be built. All possible routings for the culverts had been investigated. Due consideration had been given to the constraints of space and conflicts with other underground structures which could not be diverted. After review, the Administration considered it necessary to revise the implementation plan to divert part of the stormwater flow to the Kai Tak nullah and to store part of the stormwater in a large underground tank. The revised strategy would reduce the overall length of drains to be upgraded under stages 2 and 3 from 94 km to 48 km, a reduction of about 50% in length.

9. Mr James TO was concerned about the feasibility of the revised strategy as the diverted stormwater flow would travel a longer distance, shifting the floodspots from one place to another. CE/DSD said that a computer modelling study had been conducted on the revised strategy. The study revealed that the diversion of water flow and the provision of a storage tank would alleviate the problem of flooding. Presently, the areas near the Flower Market Road and Tai Hang Tung Recreation Ground were flood-prone. The nullah in these areas often overflowed during heavy rains. The construction of a flood storage tank underneath the Tai Hang Tung Recreation Ground would reduce the risk of flooding. The water stored temporarily in the storage tank could later be pumped away. Two transfer tunnels, running respectively from Waterloo Road to Kai Tak Nullah (diverting about 30% of stormwater flow from Mongkok) and from North West Kowloon to Stonecutters Island (diverting about 20% of stormwater flow from West Kowloon) would also be required. A feasibility study was being undertaken on the latter tunnel.

10. Responding to members' enquiry about the gradient of the transfer tunnels, in particular about the Kai Tak transfer tunnel, CE/DSD said that this was of prime concern in design because insufficient gradients would result in backflow of water. The stormwater transfer tunnel under the Kai Tak Transfer Scheme would be four metres in diameter and 1.8 kilometres in length. This transfer tunnel was relatively short, and the stormwater conveyed therein would flow to the Kai Tak Nullah which had spare capacity. It was not envisaged that there would be any backflow problems.

11. Dr Raymond HO supported the revised strategy to resolve the problem of flooding in West Kowloon. He was concerned about the coordination of the revised strategy with the ongoing drainage improvement works as well as the South East Kowloon Development (SEKD) which had yet to be confirmed.

12. CE/DSD advised that the revised strategy would not affect West Kowloon drainage improvement stage 1 works, which aimed at upgrading the existing critically under-capacity drains. Close liaison was maintained with the Territory Development Department to ensure coordination of the proposed drainage works with the SEKD. CAS/W added that the SEKD plan would have no bearing on the routing of the Kai Tak transfer tunnel and the location of discharge because the revised strategy would only make use of the spare capacity of the Kai Tak Nullah.

13. Dr TANG Siu-tong enquired whether the Administration would revert back to the original strategy if the revised strategy was found to be technically not feasible. He was concerned about the resultant delay should this be the case. CE/DSD advised that the feasibility of the Tai Hang Tung Flood Storage Scheme and the Kai Tak Transfer Scheme had been confirmed by the preliminary design study. The detailed design work for these two Schemes was underway. Upon completion of the detailed design in mid-2000, funding on the two schemes would be sought from Public Works Subcommittee (PWSC) for works to start in late 2000. Meanwhile, a feasibility study was being undertaken on the Lai Chi Kok Transfer Scheme.

14. Responding to Dr TANG Siu-tong's enquiry about the capacity of the flood storage tank, CE/DSD said that the tank could accommodate continuous rainfalls for six hours under a red storm warning signal (an average of 50 mm of rainfalls per hour), or four and a half hours under a black storm warning signal (an average of 70 mm of rainfalls per hour). CAS/W added that it was expected that the flood storage tank and the transfer tunnels together could accommodate rainfalls of a return period of 50 years.

15. Mr James TO enquired whether flooding would still occur if rainfalls concentrated in a particular area. CAS/W said that presently the drainage system in West Kowloon was under-capacity because it was receiving stormwater from both West Kowloon and North Kowloon. As part of the stormwater flow would be diverted to the two transfer tunnels, the Administration believed that the drainage system in West Kowloon would have sufficient capacity to cope with the stormwater from the area.

16. Mr James TO queried why the revised strategy, which appeared to be straight-forward, had not been come up in the first place. CAS/W said that the Administration had all along been trying out various strategies in dealing with flooding. As the conventional approach of building new drains and upgrading existing drains were found to be highly disruptive, and with reference to overseas experience, the Drainage Services Department arrived at the revised strategy.

V Replacement and rehabilitation of watermains
(LC Paper No. CB(1)1296/98-99(03))

17. The Assistant Director of Water Supplies (New Works), Water Supplies Department (AD/WSD) briefly took members' through the Administration's paper which set out the background, justification and the scope of the proposed replacement and rehabilitation of aged watermains works.

18. In response to the Chairman's enquiry about the age distribution of the watermains to be replaced, AD/WSD said that 45% of the watermains were laid over 30 years. Some had been in use for 50 to 60 years and were approaching the end of their service life. Depending on the pipe material, the service life of fresh watermains was about 50 years and that of salt watermains about 20 years due to corrosion. The proposed project aimed at replacing watermains which were in a poor condition, aged or had records of failure. A review had been made on the watermains that had to be replaced. DS/W added that most of the watermains in old districts like Shamshuipo, Central and Mongkok were laid in the 60's and had been in use for nearly 40 years.

19. The Chairman was concerned about the disruption to the public caused by road opening works associated with the replacement of watermains. DS/W said that the Water Supplies Department (WSD) would be engaging engineering consultants to carry out traffic impact assessment in the formulation of the preliminary design. The consultants would also make recommendations on the use of the latest replacement and rehabilitation techniques to minimise road openings, and devise and supervise pilot trials to confirm the suitability of using the new techniques in Hong Kong.

20. Dr TANG Siu-tong considered it important to coordinate the replacement/rehabilitation programme with other drainage improvement works to minimise road openings. AD/WSD said in response that WSD had been in close liaison with Drainage Services Department on the programme of works. Where works would be carried out in the same area, the two departments would devise a co-ordinated plan to minimise road openings as far as possible.

21. The Chairman was concerned about the interface of the design of Phase 1A and 1B works which would be separately undertaken by WSD and the consultants. AD/WSD said that both parties were expected to work closely with a view to co-ordinating the entire programme of works. The detailed design of Phase 1A works was now in hand. The Administration planned to upgrade this part of the works to Category A in June 2000 with a view to commencing the construction works in November 2000.

22. Dr TANG Siu-tong enquired whether the replacement/rehabilitation project was intended as a rolling programme since the service life of salt water pipes would expire by the time the project was completed in 20 years. AD/WSD said that with the advancement in technology, more durable pipe materials would be used in the replacement programme. WSD was trying out the use of corrosion resistant plastic pipes including polyethylene pipes for salt watermains. With the use of new and stronger pipe materials, the service life of salt watermains could be increased to 30 years or longer.

23. Noting that about 25% of the total water supplied was lost through bursts and leaks of water pipes per year, Dr Raymond HO agreed on the need to implement the project as early as possible. He called on the Administration to plan carefully to minimise nuisance to the public. He also stressed the need to take account of the subsidence problem in reclamation areas when implementing the project and to use more durable pipe materials for replacement. The Administration agreed to provide further information on the types of materials available for the replacement project.

24. Mr James TO considered it necessary to study the proposed works in detail as these would take as long as 20 years to complete. He urged the Administration to provide more information about the project and employ consultants to provide expert advice. As the consultancy study on Private Sector Participation (PSP) in water supply services was underway, Mr TO enquired whether water pipes and other underground water facilities would be considered as fixed assets, and if so, how these would be calculated upon privatization. He opined that this issue had to be clarified before implementing the proposed works.

25. DS/W assured members that the Administration would adhere to the established guidelines for engaging consultants and only qualified consultants would be employed. In view of the rapid deterioration of water pipes, there was an urgent need to commence an effective and timely replacement / rehabilitation programme to improve the water supply network, irrespective of whether PSP would take place. Should privatization of water supply services be pursued, the financial arrangements would be worked out and these would take account of the underground assets and the investments made under the replacement/rehabilitation programme.

26. Mr James TO said that based on the existing information, the Democratic Party would have serious reservations in supporting the replacement/rehabilitation programme. He pointed out that if PSP was to go ahead in two or three years' time, the new company taking over the work of WSD should work out its own plan as to how the improvement works could be done in the most cost effective manner. He agreed that the problem of pipe failure was a cause for concern. However, given the excessive supply of Dongjiang water, the implementation of the replacement/rehabilitation programme could be deferred to enable the working out of an effective and co-ordinated plan to tie in with PSP. Resources from the private sector could be mobilized then. In response to the Chairman, the Administration agreed to provide an information paper to explain the effect of PSP on the replacement/rehabilitation programme.

(Post-meeting note: The information requested by members was provided by the Administration and circulated under LC Paper CB(1)1384/98-99.)

VI New control measures for New Territories exempted houses (NTEH)
(LC Paper No. CB(1)1296/98-99(01))

Meeting with professional institutes

27. The Chairman invited representatives of each of the professional institutes to express their view.

28. Mr Barry WILL, Chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA), said that there was little difference between the building process of NTEH and other houses which were developed under a comprehensive development plan and hence there was no reason that NTEH should be treated in a different way. There was a need to solve not just the structural problems of NTEH but also environmental problems, sustainability problems, and maintenance problems. HKIA was of the view that the stop-gap control measures presently introduced by the Administration were insufficient and could not resolve all the problems. Mr WILL stressed that assuring the structural stability of NTEH was not enough. These buildings should meet the same criteria in respect of environmental, drainage and other safety requirements. The whole building process should be looked after by an Authorised Person (AP). Buildings would fall into disrepair very quickly if the design and other building aspects were not properly taken care of. A comprehensive approach to deal with the entire building process was required. Buildings which had gone through a comprehensive building process would be more valuable to both owners and the community as they would be of a better quality. HKIA submitted that if changes were to be made, NTEH should not remain as an exempted category but should fall within the control of the Buildings Ordinance, Cap. 123 under the normal building process.

29. Ir WONG Chi-ming of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) said that HKIE supported the new control measures to ensure the structural safety of NTEH. The newly formulated Technical Guidelines on the Design and Construction of NTEH (Technical Guidelines) would provide technical guidance to the fundamental requirements on the design and construction of structural elements to ensure safety. The requirement to appoint Registered Structural Engineer (RSE) or Registered Professional Engineer (RPE) and T2 competent persons to respectively monitor the construction of critical structural elements and supervise the construction of the entire house would ensure compliance with the technical requirements and hence the safety of NTEH. Clear delineation of responsibilities would improve accountability for non-compliance.

30. Mr C K LAU of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS) said that apart from the briefing given to the professional institutes on 12 February 1999, the Administration had not further consulted HKIS in its formulation of the Technical Guidelines nor provided it with a copy which HKIS obtained from a District Lands Office. Mr LAU then took members through HKIS's submission which was tabled at the meeting, highlighting the following points -

  1. For the sake of public safety and in the public interest, the control mechanism and construction standards, as well as the planning and safety standards of NTEH should be comprehensively reviewed;

  2. A quick and simple solution was to disallow the building of balconies and canopies in NTEH by amending the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance (Cap. 121);

  3. Any enhanced control of NTEH must be within the purview of the Buildings Ordinance. If additional monitoring was required, this should be undertaken by an AP and RSE under the Buildings Ordinance. The exemption of NTEH from section 4 of the Buildings Ordinance as provided for in section 7 of the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance need to be reviewed;

  4. If certification of the building works of NTEH was required, the works must be carried out by a Registered Building Contractor (RBC) and supervised by an AP or RSE; and

  5. An overall review of the NTEH policy vis-a-vis minor works policy was necessary.

(Post-meeting note: A copy of HKIS's submission was circulated to members under LC Paper No. CB(1)1334/98-99.)

31. Concluding his presentation, Mr C K LAU said that HKIS was dissatisfied over the imposition of the new control measures. At the meeting on 12 February 1999, HKIA and HKIS had clearly indicated that the role of AP and RSE were equally important in the supervision of the construction of NTEH. However, their views had been ignored and the present guidelines only provided for the appointment of RSE/RPE for the monitoring of construction of critical structural elements. Mr LAU said that it was both discriminating and ultra vires to ignore APs who were qualified to take full charge of building structures. Moreover, it was contrary to the principle of equal opportunities that members of HKIS and HKIA, who were qualified to become AP under the Buildings Ordinance, were excluded from appointment under the new guidelines for NTEH. He requested members to seek a review of the new guidelines. As affected parties would need time to study the new guidelines, HKIS was of the view that implementation of the guidelines should be deferred, or at least a grace period should be provided before implementation.

Meeting with the Administration

32. The Chairman said that as the representative of the Architectural, Surveying and Planning Functional Constituency in LegCo, he was gravely concerned about the allegation of discrimination against architects and surveyors in respect of the new control measures. Given the large number of NTEH, control was an issue of public concern. He agreed with HKIA and HKIS that apart from the question of structural safety, other building aspects of NTEH should also be looked into. He was concerned that consultation on the control measures was inadequate but these had already been put into operation. As the design of NTEH could be quite varied, he doubted the merits of issuing guidelines which might not apply to each and every NTEH.

33. The Director of Buildings (D of B) said that under the Buildings Ordinance, building works were subject to three levels of supervision, namely by AP, RSE and registered contractors. This three-tier supervision applied to all urban buildings which in most cases were multi-storey and complicated in structure. Having considered the features of NTEH which were relatively simple in structure and design, the Administration considered a three-tier supervision excessive. The new guidelines therefore required the appointment of a T2 competent person to supervise the construction of NTEH. A T2 competent person, who should have the required academic qualification and the minimum three-year experience in construction works, would have the necessary expertise in supervising the construction of NTEH. To enhance the safety of NTEH, the new control measures imposed a second level of supervision, requiring the appointment of RSE or RPE to monitor the construction of critical structural elements. The proposed two-tier supervision involving RSE/RPE and a T2 competent person were considered adequate and appropriate in ensuring the structural safety of NTEH. In fact, the safety standard in respect of the required monitoring of critical structural elements of NTEH were the same as those required of building works under the Buildings Ordinance.

34. Mr Barry WILL said that HKIA was not trying to ensure job opportunities for APs. It was concerned that any changes to the system should be made for the better. He pointed out that many exempted houses were some sizeable developments and many of these houses were sub-divided for sale or rent. HKIA considered it necessary to improve the whole construction process to ensure safety. Referring to page 9 of the new guidelines concerning slab thickness of canopies, Mr WILL said that the given specifications and details were unsatisfactory and unsafe. If the following of specifications in the guidelines could guarantee safety, there would not be any need to appoint RSE or RPE for the supervision of construction. He reiterated that the guidelines were only a half-way measure and were by no means comprehensive solution to the problem. HKIA therefore objected to the new control measures. The Chairman concurred with Mr WILL that it was not proper to provide building details as these might not apply to each and every NTEH.

35. Responding to the Chairman's query about the application of disparate building requirements between NTEH and non-NTEHs, the Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (DS/PEL) said that historically exemption was granted to small houses built in the New Territories which were relatively simple in design and construction. When the Buildings Ordinance was extended to the New Territories in 1960, small houses remained an exempted category. Following the collapse of a balcony of a NTEH, the Administration considered it necessary to issue guidelines on their design and construction to ensure safety. The Administration considered that unless and until there was a policy change on NTEH, the status quo should be maintained. The Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance was under review and a decision would be reached in due course on the need to make amendments.

36. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (PAS/PEL) added that following the collapse of a balcony at Swallow Garden on 24 December 1998, the Administration had undertaken to issue guidelines on the construction of NTEH. Professional institutes had been consulted and a meeting with them was held on 12 February 1999 to discuss the proposed guidelines. The Administration had taken a pragmatic approach to address public concern over the safety of NTEH. The new control measures which could be implemented under the existing law were immediately put into place. These were intended to be stop-gap measures. The Administration, on the other hand, undertook to review the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance. This review would look into the need for control over other aspects apart from structural safety. The review would take some time and upon completion, legislative changes might be introduced.

37. Dr TANG Siu-tong declared interest as an indigenous villager. He said that he did not own a NTEH. Given the land and other constraints in the construction of small houses, these could not be built if stringent requirements under the Buildings Ordinance were to be applied. The prime concern was structural safety. In his view, the new guidelines had served this purpose. He therefore supported the new control measures.

38. PAS/PEL said in response to Dr Raymond HO that the construction of a NTEH which had no critical structural elements did not require monitoring by RSE/RPE provided that the foundation complied with specifications. However, supervision by a T2 competent person for the construction of the entire house was still required.

39. Dr Raymond HO enquired whether NTEH under construction would be affected by the new control measures and whether the Administration would consider approving NTEH over three storeys to maximise land use.

40. In view of the time constraints, the Chairman asked the Administration to take note of Dr HO's questions. He said that pending the Administration's reply to HKIS's submission, the Panel might discuss the subject again.

VII Any other business

41. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:45 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
16 August 1999