Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)1789/98-99
(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, 15 April 1999, at 10:45 am 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)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP

Non-Panel member attending:

Hon Howard YOUNG, JP

Members absent :

Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Public officers attending:

For items IV & V

Mr Patrick LAU
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and     Lands (Lands and Planning)

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

For item IV

Mr Philip LAU
Assistant Director of Buildings (Specialist)

Chief Buildings Surveyor (Dangerous Buildings)
Buildings Department

For item V

Land Registrar

For item VI

Principal Assistant Secretary for Works
(Policy and Development)

Mr Tony TOY
Project Director 1
Architectural Services Department

Mrs Mimi BROWN
Deputy Government Property Administrator
Government Property Agency

Project Manager 121
Architectural Services Department

Chief Assistant Secretary for Works
(Technical Services)

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)1057 and 1009/98-99)

The minutes of meetings held on 19 January 1999 and 11 February 1999 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2.  Members agreed to discuss the following items proposed by the Administration at the next Panel meeting scheduled for 13 May 1999 at 10:45 am -

  1. West Kowloon Drainage Improvement stages 2 and 3;

  2. Replacement and rehabilitation of watermains, stage 1 phase 1; and

  3. Recommendations on the Urban Renewal Authority and the Urban Renewal Authority Bill.

(Post-meeting note: Item (c) was subsequently withdrawn at the request of the Administration.)

3.  Members also agreed to discuss the new control measures for New Territories exempted houses introduced by the Administration following the collapse of a balcony in Swallow Garden.

4.  Referring to the Administration’s paper on slope safety which was circulated under LC Paper No CB(1) 1076/98-99, Dr Raymond HO requested that the Panel discuss the paper later.

(Post meeting note: The subject on slope safety was discussed at the Panel meeting on 10 June 1999.)

III  Information papers issued since last meeting

5.  Members noted the following information papers issued since last meeting -

Paper No. CB(1)998/98-99 - extract from minutes of LegCo Members’ meeting with Kowloon City Provisional District Board on 17 December 1998 regarding resumption of private streets;
Paper No. CB(1)1039/98-99 - information paper on the retention of a Government Land Agent Post (D2) to head the Task Force (Black Spots) in Lands Department;
Paper No. CB(1)1076/98-99 - information paper on slope safety;.
Paper No. CB(1)1077/98-99 - extract from minutes of LegCo Members’ meeting with North Provisional District Board on 5 November 1998 regarding flooding;
Paper Nos. CB(1)1083
and 1098/98-99-
letters from utility companies objecting against the proposed charging and penalty system for road opening works and the Administration’s response; and
Paper No. CB(1)1119/98-99 -information paper on the creation of a Chief Architect post for Cheung Sha Wan Wholesale Market Complex Phase 2 and a Chief Architect (Multi-disciplinary) post and a Chief Quantity Surveyor post for the whole-day Primary Schools Programme in Architectural Services Department.

IV  Proposed control scheme for advertisement signboards
(LC Paper No. CB(1)1113/98-99(01))

6.  With the aid of a computer, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (PAS/PEL) explained the safety problem of advertisement signboards and the details of the proposed control scheme by highlighting the salient points of the Administration’s paper.

Hiring of professionals

7.  The Chairman pointed out that whilst this Panel had asked for some kind of control over advertisement signboards for some time, he however was concerned about the procedures involved and the cost of the proposed control scheme.  Under the proposed scheme, signboards exceeded five square metres in size and 300 millimetres in thickness would need approval from the Building Authority (BA) on their structural details.  He enquired if most signboards exceeded those dimensions.

8.  PAS/PEL said that the proposed registration scheme was intended to strike a balance between non-regulation and excessive control.  This explained why certain signboards, such as typical shop-front signboards, which posed low risk to public safety would be exempted from registration.  The Assistant Director of Buildings (Specialist) (AD of B) said that based on the result of sample surveys of signboards in Shamshuipo and Wanchai districts, the Administration estimated that about 12% of existing advertisement signboards exceeded five square metres in size.  Having regard to the loading effect of a signboard in relation to its size and supporting system, the Administration specified the size and thickness of a signboard which would require approval from BA.  For installation of signboards exceeding the stipulated dimensions, an Authorised Person, and in the present case, a Registered Structural Engineer, would have to submit the structural details of the signboard to BA for approval.

9.  Mr LEE Wing-tat said that while supporting in principle the introduction of a registration system for advertisement signboards, he had reservations about the requirement to hire registered contractors or Authorised Persons, where appropriate, for certifying the structural safety of signboards or submitting plans to BA.  Given the rare incidents of falling signboards causing injuries in the past, he considered the proposed measure of requiring professional assistance in installing signboards both costly and overly strict.  He was of the view that it would suffice to register the owners/companies installing the signboards.  The crucial point was to hold them personally liable for matters relating to the signboard and they would be ready to maintain them.  Failure to maintain, not improper installation, often made signboards become dangerous or dilapidated.

10.  PAS/PEL stressed that only signboards which exceeded the stipulated dimensions would require the submission of plans by Authorised Persons.  The Administration would review the size of signboards which would require the approval of BA, after consultation with the public.

11.  As regards registration of signboard contractors, AD of B said that the matter was still under consideration.  The initial idea was to establish a new registration system for signboard contractors.  To qualify for registration as a signboard contractor, a person should possess sufficient knowledge about installation of signboards.  Professional qualification would not be considered necessary.  Existing signboard contractors who had the expertise in signboard installation and repairs could be registered under the scheme.  It was expected that the proposed scheme would not incur substantial extra cost on the part of signboard owners.

Costs of erecting signboards

12.  Mr HO Sai-chu said that the introduction of a registration system for signboard contractors would induce contractors to charge higher fees.  An overly complex control scheme would adversely affect the advertising industry and commercial activities.  He was concerned that the additional cost incurred would inhibit businesses from installing signboards.  This would affect tourism since advertisement signboards had been a tourist attraction.

13.   PAS/PEL said that the Administration was conscious of the cost implications for business operators.  It therefore proposed a more cost-effective registration system instead of a licensing system.  He added that even under the existing legislation, certain signboards were already subject to control under the Buildings Ordinance and had to be approved by BA before installation. The proposed scheme would provide clear guidelines on the types of signboards which were subject to control.

14.   As regards Mr Ronald ARCULLI’s enquiry about the cost of installing and registering signboards under the proposed control scheme, AD of B said that the registration fee was estimated to be around $600 irrespective of the size of the signboard.  The cost of installing signboards would depend on the design and complexity of the job.  In response to members, the Administration agreed to provide a comparison on the current costs of installing an advertisement signboard and the additional costs incurred under the proposed control scheme, including the costs of hiring Authorised Persons for submitting plans to BA for signboards exceeding the stipulated dimensions.

Definition of signboard owners

15.  The Chairman opined that the proposed control scheme would put the onus on owners of signboards to ensure their safety.  Mr LEE Wing-tat said that if owners would be held responsible for their signboards, they would take proper maintenance action, knowing that failing of which might cause the Government to remove the signboards and recover the costs from them.

16.  Noting members’ concern about owners’ responsibility, the Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environmental and Lands (DS/PEL) said that before implementing the proposed control scheme, it was essential to clearly define the meaning of signboards owners on whom action could be taken where necessary.  PAS/PEL said that the initial thinking was that signboard owners should include not only persons erecting the signboards, but also owners of companies whose goods or trade were being advertised, and owners of buildings/property to which the signboards were attached or on which they were erected.  The reason for holding building owners responsible was that the external walls and its attachments were considered part of a building and should remain the owners’ responsibility.  If owners agreed to the installation of signboards, they should be held responsible for their safety.  Under the proposed 3-tier meaning of signboard owners, where necessary, the Administration would take action on persons in respect of the signboard in the following order:  applicant for erecting the signboard, the company on which the signboards displayed, and the owners of buildings to which the signboard was attached.

17.  Dr TANG Siu-tong considered the proposed definition of signboard owners unfair to building owners.  The Chairman opined that the proposed scheme which would hold building/property owners liable for matters associated with the signboard in question would have cost implications as building owners would demand a higher price for approving the erection of signboards to their building.

18.  Mr Ronald ARCULLI said that the Administration had not provided sufficient information in the paper on the details of the proposed control scheme.  Although he supported control of signboards through registration, he was concerned about the liability of private property owners under the proposed scheme.  He further pointed out that a rental contract for commercial premises normally lasted for three years but the proposed validity period of registration of a signboard was five years.  Problems would likely arise as signboard owners might be untraceable after they had moved out from their rented premises.  There might also be title problems about the external walls of a building which would further complicate the scheme.  As an alternative means of control, Mr ARCULLI suggested that signboard owners should be required either to pay a registration fee or to make a deposit upon application for erection of signboards.   The money so collected could cover the cost of removing abandoned or dangerous signboards should it be deemed necessary in future.

19.  Mr HO Sai-chu echoed Mr ACCULLI’s view.  He considered the proposal to recover costs from a tier of signboards owners extremely cumbersome.  As the crux of the problem rested with the need to remove abandoned or dangerous signboards, he supported the proposal to require the payment of a deposit when a signboard was registered.

20.  DS/PEL concurred that the control of advertisement signboards was a complex issue and this explained why the Administration had yet to introduce a regulation system.  The proposed scheme was an initial concept and the Administration was seeking members’ views before consulting the public.  The Administration had considered the merits of requiring payment of a deposit for registration of an advertisement signboard.  Fixing the appropriate amount of such a deposit would be crucial.  A small deposit would be insufficient to cover the necessary expenses, whereas a large deposit would be a burden on signboard owners.  The Administration would consider requiring payment of a deposit for registration if this was found to be well supported.  PAS/PEL emphasised that the Administration did not intend to seek the Panel’s approval to implement the proposed scheme at this stage.  The Administration would formulate details of the registration scheme in the light of the outcome of consultation over the next few months and would revert to the Panel after the summer recess.

21.  On behalf of Mr James TO, Mr LEE Wing-tat enquired about the existing way of handling abandoned signboards.  AD of B said that Buildings Department would remove signboards which posed a safety hazard to the public and would recover the removal cost from the owners concerned.  If the owners could not be found, the cost would be paid by the public revenue.

Public consultation

22.  In response to Mr HO Sai-chu’s enquiry about the scope of consultation on the proposed control scheme, PAS/PEL said that the Administration would consult the Hong Kong Tourist Association, retail associations, Hong Kong Contractors’ Association, the advertising industry and other affected industries.

V Retention of a supernumerary Deputy Principal Solicitor (DPS) post for the Land Registry for the introduction and implementation of the Title Registration System
  (LC Paper No. CB(1)1113/98-99(02))

23.  The Land Registrar (LR) said that the Finance Committee approved in February 1994 the creation of the supernumerary post of DPS to handle matters relating to the introduction of the Land Titles Bill (the Bill).  The Bill was introduced into LegCo in November 1994 and LegCo decided to curtail examination of it in June 1995.  Subject to the approval by the Executive Council, the Bill would be re-introduced into LegCo in July 1999.  The Administration therefore proposed to retain the supernumerary post of DPS for the introduction and implementation of the title registration system. LR stressed that members’ support of the post would not commit them to the support of the Bill.  In the event that the Bill was not supported by LegCo, the post would be deleted.

24.  The Chairman enquired about the impact on the incumbent should the post of DPS be deleted.  LR said that the Legal Division of the Land Registry was manned by solicitors from the unified solicitors grade in the Government.  Solicitors of this grade were deployed to a number of departments, including the Land Registry.  The incumbent of the post of DPS would re-join the grade for re-posting if the post was subsequently deleted.

25.  Responding to Mr LEE Wing-tat’s enquiry about the scope of responsibility of the DPS post when it was approved in 1994.  PAS/PEL said that DPS was responsible for planning work on the Bill, steering the Bill through LegCo and undertaking preparatory work for the implementation of the new legislation.  Upon the decision of LegCo in June 1995 to curtail examination of the Bill, the supernumerary post subsequently lapsed on 1 July 1996.  Notwithstanding the decision of LegCo, the Land Registry continued consultation with the Law Society and other interested bodies since July 1995.  The Bill had been revised in the light of comments received.  The Administration was still discussing with the Law Society on the draft.

26.  Mr LEE Wing-tat pointed out that normally the Director or Assistant Director of a department would take charge of the introduction of a bill falling within its purview and a post would not be created for the purpose.  However, owing to the complexity of the Bill, he would support the retention of the DPS post.  He stressed that the approval for the retention of the DPS post for the introduction of the Bill was an isolated case and should not be regarded as a precedent.

27.  LR noted the member’s concern.  He said that apart from the complexity of the Bill, there were other issues associated with its practical and non-legal aspects which required the expertise of a DPS.  The duties of the DPS had been listed out in enclosure 2 of the paper, which included, inter alia, the conduct of research on the financial arrangements of a proposed indemnity fund.  These duties were additional to the normal processing of a bill.

28.  Mr Ronald ARCULLI said that he would not generally support the creation of a supernumerary post to deal with the introduction of a new policy. He however noted that the Bill raised difficult and technical issues.  The then Bills Committee had formed a technical sub-group to study the Bill which held over 15 meetings before curtailment of examination.  Given the divergent views on the title registration system, he agreed that without the DPS post, it would be difficult for the issue to go forward.  A non-legally qualified person would be at a less advantaged position to deal with professional and non-professional bodies.  He therefore supported the retention of the DPS post although he did not support the concept of the title registration system.

VI  Combined maintenance depot at Tin Shui Wai, Yuen Long
  (Paper No. CB(1)1113/98-99(03)

29.  The Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (Policy and Development) (PAS/W) explained the background and the justification for the proposal of constructing a permanent combined maintenance depot for Water Supplies Department (WSD), Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD), Drainage Services Department (DSD), Architectural Services Department (ASD) and Highways Department (HyD) on a vacant site in Tin Tan Street, Tin Shui Wai, Yuen Long.  He advised that the Administration intended to submit a funding application to the Public Works Subcommittee in May 1999 to upgrade part of 31 GK to Category A for commissioning pre-contract consultancy services including design and contract document preparation, at an estimated cost of $43 million (at December 1998 prices).

Development strategy and cost benefits

30.  Noting that individual works departments had already set up their own maintenance depots in various regions, the Chairman enquired whether some of these depots would be released upon the commissioning of the proposed combined maintenance depot, and if so, whether the reprovisioning would result in an overall increase or decrease in area.

31.  PAS/W said that the WSD Mainland North West Regional Office in Argyle Street would be reprovisioned with a larger accommodation in the combined maintenance depot in Tin Shui Wai.  Meanwhile, a permanent sub-depot of a net area of about 350 square metres would be required for DSD.  In view of the substantial financial commitment for the construction of the combined maintenance depot, Mr HO Sai-chu requested and the Administration agreed to provide information on the cost benefits of the project and a breakdown on the sites which could be released for redevelopment or otherwise as a result of the reprovisioning in Tin Shui Wai.

32.  Dr Raymond HO sought clarification on the justification for the combined depot.  He was of the view that regionalization, not centralization, should be more efficient as far as delivering maintenance and repair services was concerned.  He enquired if the purpose of centralizing services was to release needed space in the urban area for redevelopment.  He also pointed out the large number of vacant industrial buildings which could be utilized as depots.

33.  PAS/W responded that industrial buildings might not be suitable as these were not purpose-built for use as depots.  The intended function of the proposed facilities was to serve the separate and distinct needs for regional depots of the various departments.  The proposed building contributed to regionalisation, as some works departments like WSD and DSD did not yet have regional depots in the western and north-western parts of the New Territories.  On the other hand, regional depots of various departments were to be accommodated in one building so as to make full use of the available site.

34.  Noting that EMSD had, following the establishment of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund (EMSTF), undertaken a major reorganization and regionalization exercise and had developed a number of smaller satellite depots in the New Territories, Mr HO Sai-chu enquired whether EMSD intended to revert back to its former mode of providing centralized services.  PAS/W said in response that the existing vehicle workshop servicing vehicles for Kowloon and the New Territories was located at the Sung Wong Toi Depot.  To improve efficiency and to assist in the eventual release of the site for redevelopment, the Administration proposed to reprovision the workshop in Tin Shui Wai.  The workshop on the Hong Kong Island would take over some of the services which were being provided by the Sung Wong Toi Depot.

Asset value of EMSTF

35.  Members sought information on the impact on asset value of EMSTF should the Sung Wong Toi Depot be reprovisioned in Tin Shui Wai.  The Chairman was of the view that the asset value of EMSTF should take into account the real value of the new premises.

36.  PAS/W said in response that EMSTF operated on a self-financing principle, aiming at a target annual return of 13.5% of its asset value.  The reprovisioning of EMSD’s Sung Wong Toi workshop to the Tin Shui Wai combined maintenance depot would be done on a square metre for a square-metre basis.  As such, the reprovisioning would be cost-neutral and would not affect the asset value of EMSTF.

37.  Mr Ronald ARCULLI opined that EMSTF should be seen to be operating on a fair and prudent financial basis.  As it was self-financing, it should not continue to enjoy subsidies from Government in terms of provision of land.

38.  PAS/W said that the operation of EMSTF had been adhering to the self-financing principle.  He further pointed out that the reprovisioning of EMSD Headquarters from Caroline Hill Road to Chai Wan would also be done on a cost-neutral basis.

Environmental measures

39.  Dr TANG Siu-tong was concerned about the possible nuisance caused by the combined maintenance depot to the neighbouring environment, where schools and residential development were located.  Referring to the location map which was tabled at the meeting, the Project Manager 121, Architectural Services Department advised that the combined maintenance depot was included in the outline zoning plan of Tin Shui Wai.  A preliminary environmental review to assess the potential impacts of the proposed depot had been conducted and no problems were identified.  The project was not a designated project under the Environment Impact Assessment Ordinance.  PAS/W added that some buffer areas would be provided to minimize any possible impact of the depot on the neighbouring schools and residential development on the southern side. Meanwhile, vehicle ingress and egress would be designed to minimize disturbance to residents.  Noting that the residential areas were situated both at the southern and northern ends of the proposed depot, the Chairman stressed the need to provide mitigation measures to minimize air and noise pollution problems associated with the operation of the depot.

(Post meeting note: A copy of the location map was circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(1)1159/98-99)

Utilization of space

40.  Dr TANG Siu-tong was concerned that the depot would have a total gross area of 54,000 square metres but only half of this area was planned for use.  The Project Director 1, Architectural Services Department (PD1) advised that workshops required a large amount of circulation space for lorries and trucks.  Since the depot would be a multi-storey one, it would require vehicular access to each level.  Of 54,000 square metres of gross floor area on the proposed seven-storey building, the net usable area would be 27,000 square metres and the efficiency factor was about 50%.  This efficiency factor was about the same for all other multi-storey workshops under construction because of the need for ramps and circulation space.

41.  The Chairman pointed out that it would cost more to build a multi-storey depot given the need for space for vehicular access to each level and the extra loading required for heavy vehicles.  PD1 said in response that the Administration aimed at maximizing the use of valuable land as sites for depots were running out and it was difficult to identify new suitable sites.

42.  Mr Ronald ARCULLI said that the Administration had not clarified in its paper the basic strategy for the reprovisioning of maintenance depot in Hong Kong.  It appeared that the strategy was to release prime urban sites occupied by the various regional workshops and to combine services of different works departments under one roof.  However, the paper had not explained how efficiency could be improved by centralizing the services of works departments and how the proposed depot located in Tin Shui Wai would better serve the various regions.  Justification for the low efficiency rate of the depot in the utilization of space and information on a breakdown on usage and details of costs should be provided.  Mr ARCULLI said that the Administration should clarify all these issues when submitting the funding application to the Public Works Subcommittee.

43.  Summing up the discussion, the Chairman requested the Administration to provide a supplementary paper to explain the overall strategy for the provision of depots, the locations of maintenance depots under construction and planning, the cost benefits of building the combined maintenance depot in Tin Shui Wai, the utilization of its space and the environmental measures to be provided.

(Post-meeting note: The required information was provided by the Administration and circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(1)1341/98-99)

VII  Any other business

44.  There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
5 August 1999