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Speech by Director of Buildings


Following is a speech delivered by the Director of Buildings, Mr Marco Wu, on "Future Building Developments - A Regulator's Perspective", at the Joint Conference on Building Development & Practice in the 21st Century today (October 18) (English only):

Ir. Joseph Chan, the Honourable Michael Suen, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here today to share with you our experience and views on the future trends and needs of the building industry in respect of the building development and practice in the 21st century.

1. Introduction

With the rapid advancement in technology, and the ever-changing needs and expectations of our community, building development and practices are progressing on various fronts including building safety, health, quality and sustainability. All these aspects call for a more flexible regulatory regime and updated building standards.

Being the government department responsible for the standards and safety of private buildings, the Buildings Department has gradually evolved from a regulator to a facilitator. Whilst our vision "to make the built environment safe and healthy for our community", and our mission "to set and enforce safety, health and environmental standards for private buildings" remain unchanged, our approach moves with time. It is paramount that we keep pace with the development of the local and global practices. We have developed, and constantly reviewed, a wide range of standards, regulations, codes of practice, and practice notes that support and facilitate the building industry in pursuit of a better-built environment in Hong Kong.

2. Regulatory Control

The regulatory control is what I call the software of our system. We carry out constant reforms and reviews of our regulatory framework with a view to establishing an effective and efficient software that meets the needs of our society and industry. With more freedom and reduced overall time for building control, the building professionals will have more flexibility and room for innovation. Our measures are multi-dimensional and we have gained headway in a number of areas. In the past few years, we introduced measures to encourage the development of green buildings and have gained positive response from the industry. Today, I shall mention two other aspects, namely, the re-engineering of plan approval process, and the enhancement of site safety and building quality.

2.1 Re-engineering of Plan Approval

To streamline the plan approval process, the Buildings Department has provided an avenue for Authorised Persons and Registered Structural Engineers to settle fundamental issues at the inception stage. We have also given them covering prior approval and consent for minor amendment works during the construction stage.

To take the reform one step further, the Director of Lands, the Director of Planning and myself have recently issued a joint practice note that would facilitate the approval process through pre-submission enquiries and conferences. It also details the arrangements to streamline landscape plan approval process which eliminates re-submissions to the Town Planning Board in respect of minor amendments to approved development proposals.

2.2 Enhancement of Site Safety Control and building quality

In parallel with our effort to streamline the plan approval procedures, we are making attempts to safeguard site safety and building quality by strengthening site supervision requirements and auditing functions. We carry out audit inspections of sites where work is in progress with a view to identifying irregularities and unsatisfactory works.

To enable more effective site supervision and efficient use of manpower resources, we have formed a dedicated working group to restructure the site supervision system. The new system will integrate and unify the three different existing site supervision schemes, namely Site Safety Supervision Plans for building works, for foundation and ground investigation field works, and for geotechnical work. We are actively working on the necessary legislative amendments for the purpose.

3. Rules and Regulations

To support the software of the regulatory regime, we need a set of comprehensive and contemporary building regulations that can stand the test of time.

We have embarked on a rigorous programme to review and modernize the Buildings Ordinance and its subsidiary regulations. One of the objectives of the review is to convert the many prescriptive regulations to performance-based requirements, facilitating the adoption and use of alternative design, construction method and building materials. This will provide flexibility that would enable building professionals to exercise their creativity to innovate and adopt new technologies without compromising safety and health.

As part of a continuing programme to migrate from prescriptive requirements to a performance based regime, standards and codes of practice will at the same time be revised. A number of practice notes and codes of practice are being reviewed and new standards will be introduced. They include lighting and ventilation, structural design and construction, just to name a few.

3.1 Lighting and ventilation

The current provision for natural lighting and ventilation require an unobstructed and uncovered open area of certain prescribed size and configuration in front of windows. These requirements are often considered contributing to the conventional cruciform layouts in the majority of residential buildings in Hong Kong. We have commissioned a consultancy study to review these provisions, and we are preparing a practice note encompassing guidance for the adoption of performance-based requirements. This practice note will be launched together with a pilot scheme, which will last for two years. Under the scheme, practitioners may choose to adopt the new performance-based standards or the existing prescriptive based requirements. The performance-based standards could open up a multiple of new possibilities for building design whilst ensuring satisfactory lighting and ventilation to the occupants.

3.2 Structural Design and Construction

To tie in with the advancement and improvement of building design, construction technology and building materials, a number of codes of practice that specify the acceptable minimum standards are being reviewed together with the Building (Construction) Regulations. They include

(i) Code of Practice on Wind Effects;

(ii) Code of Practice for Structural Use of Steel Using Limit State Approach;

(iii) Code of Practice for Structural Use of Concrete Using Limit State Approach;

(iv) Code of Practice for Precast Concrete Construction; and

(v) Code of Practice for Foundation Works.

The revision of these codes to incorporate the latest technology and theories will ensure that our requirements are on a par with international standards and enable the optimisation of building design and reduction of construction waste.

4. Way forward

4.1 e-Service

The wider use of IT for rapid and convenient information transfer has been an unstoppable trend in the 21st century. The Buildings Department takes a proactive approach in the on-going process of transformation towards e-government to improve service delivery. This includes enhancement of communication and administration within the Buildings Department, between other government departments, and with professionals and the general public. On the various schemes that we are carrying out or planning, the Building Record Management System and e-submission may be of more direct interest to the various stakeholders in the building industry.

Building plans of existing buildings are important reference documents for building professionals, lawyers, estate agents, owners and occupiers of buildings. To facilitate the storage and retrieval of these building records, the Buildings Department has embarked on a major exercise to digitize these records in our Building Record Management System. We have already converted the paper plans of buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, Central and Wanchai into electronic format. The digitized records can now be retrieved, viewed and copied in our Building Information Centre almost instantly. This service has been very well received by the public. We are now in the process of commissioning a contract to digitize the building records of all the remaining private buildings in Hong Kong.

On e-submission, we already accept the submission of letters and government forms such as BA1 and BA20 in electronic format. We have already started to allow the use of computer software for calculating gross floor area of buildings and the submission of such information in electronic format.

4.2 Self-certification of Minor Building Works

The existing building control regime applies to all building works with few exceptions. Even minor works such as the erection of a canopy over a window have to comply with all the provisions for building works. We believe the degree of building control should be proportionate to the nature, scale, complexity and degree of risk involved. With the introduction of the self-certification of minor works in the Buildings (Amendment) Bill 2003, registered minor works contractors may carry out certain minor works such as the erection of internal staircases, small lightweight canopies etc. on their own or under the supervision of APs and RSEs, without having to submit building plans to the Building Authority for approval. The Bill was introduced to the Legislative Council in April this year and is being examined by a Bills Committee.

To implement the minor works self certification system, we propose to establish a new register of minor works contractors. We anticipate that the simplified minor works procedures will involve greater participation by building professionals and registered contractors in the control of minor works. It will also result in time and cost saving for the building owners and industry without compromising safety.

We believe that professionals like APs and RSEs form the front line of building control, and that the Building Authority should concern itself with the more fundamental issues of building design and standards. Self-certification of minor works is one of the major steps of the migration from our role as a regulator to a facilitator.

In a recent study on the regulatory control of building developments in other countries including Singapore, UK, Japan and Australia, we note that private building professionals in these countries perform the building control function. For example, in Singapore, all submissions must be checked by an accredited independent checker prior to submitting to the Building and Construction Authority. In Australia, Japan and UK, private building approval organisations are allowed to operate in parallel with, and as an alternative to the government approval system. I welcome your views on the appropriateness to adopt such self-certification system in Hong Kong.

5. Conclusion

Without compromising our duty to ensure building safety and health, the role of the Buildings Department is evolving from a stern regulator to a proactive facilitator. We are committed to provide building professionals, builders and developers with the appropriate regulatory framework and to secure a better built environment. To ensure that our policies and regulations can meet the needs of the industry and the community, we will continue to keep our ears to the ground and maintain close contact with various stakeholders of the industry. The Conference we attend today does provide a good platform for experience sharing and exchange of views.

Let us work hand in hand for a quality built environment that we shall be proud of for the years to come. Thank you.

Ends/Saturday, October 18, 2003


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