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Following is a question by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council on October 30:
It is learnt that in October 2009, the Buildings Department (BD) issued repair orders to the owners of a tenement building at 51 Kai Ming Street, To Kwa Wan, requiring them to repair the external walls, common areas and pipes of the building. In early 2010, BD further found that there were problems with the cantilevered slab balconies of the building and, therefore, issued statutory orders to the owners requiring them to arrange for a detailed investigation. Subsequently, BD included the building in the Operation Building Bright programme, and the owners paid the costs of about $17,000 per household for the repair works, which were completed in October 2011. Yet, in August this year (i.e. less than two years after the completion of the works) and on the ground that the balconies of the building constituted an immediate danger, BD applied to the court and was granted a closure order to close the building. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the specific relocation arrangements made by the authorities for the affected residents and ground floor shop operators since the aforesaid closure order was served, as well as the progress of the investigation works conducted by BD and the anticipated completion date; whether the authorities have formulated plans to deal with the situation where the building is confirmed as no longer suitable for habitation, including matters such as demolition of the building and proper resettlement of the residents;
(b) given that BD had, as early as in the beginning of 2010, found that the aforesaid building had structural problems and erected emergency shoring as a protective measure, which indicated that the building was in danger of collapse at any time, why BD subsequently did not incorporate the further strengthening works of the balconies into the repair works under the Operation Building Bright programme for concurrent implementation, and whether the authorities have assessed if there is any mishandling involved; and
(c) whether it knows if the Urban Renewal Authority will consider taking the initiative to make offers for acquiring the aforesaid building as well as other old buildings in the vicinity for redevelopment; if not, of the reasons for that?
Building owners are responsible for the timely maintenance and repair of their property, and they need to also comply with the statutory orders, whether for investigation, repair or demolition, issued against their buildings by the Buildings Department (BD). The Government always attaches importance to building safety, and has been encouraging and supporting owners to take up the responsibility for property maintenance. In 2009, the BD identified that there was dilapidation in the building at 51 Kai Ming Street (the building) and had since been taking appropriate actions. These actions included issuing a repair order to the owners concerned in October 2009 in accordance with the Buildings Ordinance, requiring them to repair the external walls, common areas and pipes of the building. Upon identifying structural problems of the cantilevered slab balconies (the balconies) on the first floor of the building, emergency shoring was erected as a protective measure in February 2010. In addition, an order was issued to the owners in March 2010 requiring them to appoint an Authorised Person to conduct a detailed investigation of the building.
Since the owners concerned failed to arrange by themselves the carrying out of the repair and investigation works, and expressed that they had financial difficulties, the building was included in the Operation Building Bright (OBB) scheme. The BD subsequently engaged a contractor to carry out repair works for the external walls, common areas and pipes of the building. The repair works were completed in October 2011. It should be noted that under the OBB scheme, the interior of individual flats of the building is not covered.
As regards the detailed investigation of the building, the BD engaged in December 2010 a consultant to conduct the investigation works. However, owing to failure to gain entry into the concerned flats, the investigation could not be completed until after the consultant finally obtained consent from the owners and residents in May 2013 for entering individual flats to carry out investigation. According to the investigation report and analysis submitted by the consultant in August 2013, the structural conditions of the balconies concerned were poor. After consideration, the BD decided that the balconies should be removed and further investigation of the parent building was necessary to ensure the safety of the residents of the building and the public.
The BD applied for and obtained a closure order from the Court on August 30, 2013, and made arrangements on the ensuing two days for the residents to return to the building to remove their personal belongings. The BD then immediately proceeded with the erection of temporary shoring and collection of concrete samples.
My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) Since serving the notice of intention to apply for a closure order on August 22, 2013, the BD has all along maintained communication with the owners, residents and shop operators concerned to understand their needs and concerns. In parallel, the BD has also been working closely with the relevant departments, including the Housing Department, Social Welfare Department and Home Affairs Department, to offer assistance to the affected residents.
All 32 occupants moved out from the building on August 30 this year. While a number of them arranged for temporary accommodation themselves, the others were arranged to move temporarily into private hostels and subsequently into the Housing Department’s temporary accommodation in Shek Lei. At present, 17 tenants are still living in Shek Lei. As for the shop operators on ground floor, they can continue their business for the time being. The BD will continue to work with other departments to provide appropriate assistance to the residents, and will keep them abreast of the latest development.
The BD finished the installation of temporary shoring for the balconies on respective floors in mid-September and completed further investigation on the parent building in end-September. Currently, the BD and the consultant are analysing the information obtained from the investigation and it is estimated that a detailed report will be completed by the end of this year. Having regard to the investigation results, the BD will determine the follow-up actions required, including whether it is necessary to demolish the whole building or demolish only the balconies on each floor, or other feasible remedial proposals. BD and other departments will provide appropriate assistance to the residents where necessary.
Before executing the closure order, the BD discussed with the residents and it was agreed that the residents would be allowed to move back to the building (except the area of the balconies) after the BD has finished further investigation on the building. The BD has approached the residents upon completion of further investigation works, and so far none of them has expressed the intention to move back to the building at the moment. As for the shop operators on the ground floor, they can continue their business for the time being.
(b) As abovementioned, since the owners concerned could not arrange by themselves to carry out the repair and investigation works as required by the statutory orders, the BD included the building in the OBB in 2010 and engaged a contractor to assist the owners to repair the external walls, common areas and pipes. The works concerned were completed in October 2011. As abovementioned, the works did not cover the interior of individual flats. In other words, they did not cover the balconies in individual flats.
To accurately assess the structural conditions of the whole building including the balconies, the consultant engaged by the BD commenced a preliminary inspection in December 2010 and needed to enter individual flats for investigation and taking concrete samples thereafter. However, since the consultant had not been able to obtain the consent from the owners and residents or get into contact with some of them, the consultant could not enter the flats. The BD finally reached a consensus with the owners and residents in May 2013 on the arrangements concerned. The investigation work was then carried out and completed in late June. Since the conditions of the balconies on respective floors of the building could only be assessed after the investigation, the strengthening works required could not be ascertained by the BD beforehand.
(c) The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has been closely monitoring the development of the building concerned and has met with the residents several times to understand their worries and concerns. URA also explained to the residents in details its policy in undertaking redevelopment projects, as well as the requirements and procedures for the application for the Demand-led Redevelopment Project Pilot Scheme (Demand-led Scheme).
URA indicated that application from the owners of Nos. 41 to 51 Kai Ming Street under the Demand-led Scheme had been received in end September this year. URA is processing the application in accordance with established procedures.