Following is a question by the Hon Kam Nai-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (March 4):
It has been reported that Basement Level B1 of the Car Park Complex of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) has been used as an exhibition hall for motor vehicles since its conversion in 2003. However, the facilities there have all along failed to meet the fire safety requirements prescribed by the Buildings Department (BD) for that purpose. The Metro Planning Committee (MPC) under the Town Planning Board (TPB) had approved for three times extension of the time for compliance by the management company of HKCEC with the approval condition on fire safety in the planning permission until August 3 last year. Yet, MPC refused to extend the time for compliance for a further six months in August last year. Nevertheless, TPB approved extension of the time for compliance further to November 3 this year after conducting a review on November 14 last year. On the other hand, TPB endorsed earlier a plan submitted by the management company for adding a fire escape and fireman's lifts, which had been approved by BD and the Fire Services Department (FSD). Under the plan, the exit to the fire escape was located within an open space zone. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it knows if TPB had consulted MPC before overturning the latter's aforesaid decision; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether it knows the latest progress in the provision of the specified facilities by the management company in accordance with the requirements of BD and FSD;
(c) whether it knows the latest progress of the works undertaken in accordance with the aforesaid plan; of the area of the open space zone concerned which will be reduced as a result of the provision of the exit to the fire escape, and whether the Government has assessed if the provision of an exit to the fire escape within the open space zone is in breach of the relevant planning standards; if it has, of the assessment results; and
(d) whether BD and FSD had consulted the Planning Department and the Lands Department before they approved the plan?
The temporary exhibition hall mentioned in the question involves two previously approved applications (Nos. A/H25/2 and A/H25/6) for a temporary exhibition hall for motor vehicles (for three years). The two applications were approved by the Metro Planning Committee (MPC) of the Town Planning Board (TPB) on October 10, 2003 and November 3, 2006 respectively, with the condition on fire safety for compliance by the applicant. The planning permission granted in 2006 also required the applicant to fulfil the approval condition within six months.
The applicant subsequently applied three times for extension of the time limit for compliance with the relevant approval condition in the planning permission. Having regard to the information provided by the applicant, that no objection had been raised by the relevant departments and that the proposed extension would not cause any negative implication, the MPC granted approval to all three applications for extension. Nevertheless, when an application for further extension (No. A/H25/6-4) was considered on August 1, 2008, MPC refused the application on the ground that the applicant had not been able to provide sufficient information and justifications for not putting in place the fire service installations (FSIs) for the proposed use early.
On November 14, 2008, when TPB considered the applicant's application for a review of the MPC's decision, it took into account the latest progress made by the applicant regarding the provision of FSIs and means of escape at the venue, which included the approval given by the Buildings Department (BD) to the building plans for alteration and addition works on August 25 and September 26, 2008 and the permit to erect a temporary building issued on September 26, 2008 for the commencement of works, and the fact that the works have already commenced. At the meeting, the applicant also undertook to complete the works as soon as possible. Taking the views of the relevant departments (including the Fire Services Department (FSD)) into consideration, TPB decided to extend the time limit for compliance with the approval condition for a further six months (until May 14, 2009). Should the applicant fail to comply with the approval condition upon expiry of the specified period, the planning permission would be revoked automatically.
In response to Hon Kam's specific questions, our reply is as follows:
(a) Both the MPC and the Rural and New Town Planning Committee are set up under TPB, comprising members of TPB. An applicant who is discontent with the decision of the Committee on a planning application may apply for a review to TPB under section 17 of the Town Planning Ordinance. In this case, the applicant applied to TPB for a review of the MPC's decision on August 1, 2008 in accordance with the said provision of the Ordinance. In line with established practice, TPB had not consulted MPC when considering the application for review. TPB, however, had referred to the documents concerned and had a clear understanding of the MPC's decision. It had also taken into account the applicant's representation at the hearing as well as the views of various government departments before making the decision.
(b) As the application involves a change of use for the car park in question to an exhibition hall for motor vehicles with structural alterations in the building, according to the building plans approved by BD on June 23, 2008, the authorised person proposed to add five escape staircases at three locations within the venue for motor vehicle exhibition, as well as a fireman's lift and toilets so as to comply with the requirements of the Buildings Ordinance. According to the site inspection conducted by BD staff on February 19, 2009, the works for the proposed toilets have commenced. On the other hand, FSD has specified on the approved building plans a series of FSIs and equipment to be provided by the applicant. As at February 24, 2009, FSD has not received any further information on the provision of the required FSIs and equipment from the applicant. The Planning Department (PlanD) has reminded the applicant that all installations have to be completed before the specified period for compliance of the approval condition.
(c) The location concerned is zoned "open space" on the Wan Chai North Outline Zoning Plan No. S/H25/1. The podium at the location is currently a park of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) with an area of about 8,700 square meters. The ground floor and basements serve as HKCEC's car park, and the temporary exhibition hall for motor vehicles is located at basement level B1 of the car park. In accordance with the building plans approved by the Building Authority on June 23, 2008, the exits for the proposed escape staircases would be located at the open space on the podium. As the exhibition hall for motor vehicles is at basement level B1, the exits for the proposed escape staircases would be located on the ground floor or podium to meet the requirements under the Buildings Ordinance and of the planning permission. Currently, the open space is mainly used for passive recreation. Since the escape staircases exits will only take up a small portion (about 50 square meters) of the open space and they are not located on the passageway, they will not affect the public's use of the open space.
(d) In processing the relevant plans, BD has consulted the departments concerned, including PlanD and FSD in accordance with the established procedure, and has sent the plans to the Lands Department for scrutiny. Meanwhile, the Buildings Ordinance provides that in the approval of building plans, the FSIs or equipment required in the buildings should be shown on the plans endorsed by FSD. If the departments concerned have any comments on the plans submitted, BD will consider and process the applications for approval in accordance with the Buildings Ordinance.
Ends/Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:45