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LCQ17: Unauthorised building works
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     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 1):

Question:

     Recently, various media have successively uncovered that there are quite a number of unauthorised building works (UBWs) in various districts throughout the territory.  Furthermore, many village houses in the New Territories had additional storeys illegally built, and some even involve unauthorised occupation of government land.  At the same time, the media have uncovered quite a number of cases in which District Council members (DC members), Legislative Council Members (LegCo Members) and accountable officials are suspected of erecting UBWs, illegally building additional storeys in their properties and occupying government land without authorisation.  Some members of the public criticise that the Government knowingly ignore the issues of UBWs and building safety.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of each of the following:

(a) of the respective numbers of government staff dedicated to handle cases of UBWs, additional storeys built illegally and unauthorised occupation of government land on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and the New Territories at present;

(b) of the numbers of prosecutions instituted by the Government regarding cases of UBWs, additional storeys built illegally and unauthorised occupation of government land on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and the New Territories over the past five years;

(c) of the number of cases in which the Government was required to deploy manpower to take clearing action on UBWs, additional storeys built illegally and unauthorised occupation of government land in each of the past five years; and the aggregate amount of public money incurred in these clearing actions; and

(d) whether it has estimated the manpower to be mobilised and the amount of public money to be used in the event that the Government is required to take clearing action on the aforesaid cases of UBWs, additional storeys built illegally and unauthorised occupation of government land involving the properties of DC members, LegCo Members and accountable officials; whether the expenses incurred are to be borne by the public?

Reply:

President,

     The Buildings Department (BD) and the Lands Department (LandsD) have respectively been taking appropriate enforcement actions against unauthorised building works (UBW) and unlawful occupation of unleased land (commonly known as "government land").  For some UBW on leased land (commonly known as "private land") which also constitute a contravention of the lease conditions, the LandsD would take appropriate lease enforcement action.

     In enforcing the provisions of the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123), the BD adopts an enforcement policy which takes into account relevant factors such as building safety and availability of resources.  In the decade since 2001, the BD had focused its enforcement actions (viz., issue of statutory orders for removal of the UBW and prosecution for failure to comply with the statutory orders) on high priority targets.  These high priority targets included UBW which presents obvious hazard or imminent danger to life or property, newly built UBW or those targetted in large-scale operations, such as large canopies, large supporting frames for air-conditioners, UBW on rooftops of single-staircase buildings and UBW on canopies or cantilevered slab balconies.  Since 1 April 2011, the BD has broadened the scope for UBW clearances and will implement new multi-pronged measures to foster building safety in Hong Kong.

     Upon receiving enquiry or complaint cases, the LandsD will arrange for staff to conduct inspections.  If unlawful occupation of government land is confirmed, the LandsD will post a notice pursuant to the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 28) to require the ceasing of occupation of the land concerned before a specified date.  If the occupation of land persists, the LandsD will take further land control action which may include the clearance of the structures on the land concerned etc.  If the identity of the offender is confirmed and sufficient evidence is available, the LandsD will consider instituting prosecution.

     Where there is breach of land lease involving UBW etc, the LandsD will consider taking appropriate lease enforcement action, including issuing a warning letter to the lot owner concerned requesting rectification of the lease breaches.  If the lot owner does not rectify the lease breaches by the deadline, the LandsD will generally register the warning letter at the Land Registry (commonly known as "imposing an encumbrance") and send a copy to the property mortgagee (if applicable).

     My reply to the four-part question is as follows:

(a) There are 477 professional and technical staff in the Existing Buildings Division of the BD, who are responsible for enforcement duties relating to private building safety and maintenance, including inter alia following up on reports of building dilapidation, handling complaints against UBWs and carrying out various large-scale UBW clearance operations.  Their distribution by geographical regions is as follows:

Number of                     Number of
staff for      Number of      staff for
Hong Kong      staff for      the New
Island         Kowloon        Territories
---------      ---------      -----------
  153            202             122

     In addition, the BD will employ an additional 124 professional and technical staff in 2011-12 to launch various large-scale operations and new initiatives for enhancing building safety.  Since the handling of UBWs is only part of the duties of the Existing Buildings Division, the BD does not have statistics on the number of staff specifically dedicated for the handling of UBW.  

     At present, the numbers of staff in the LandsD responsible for taking lease enforcement actions on private land and combating unlawful occupation of government land, broken down by geographical region, are listed below:

Number of                     Number of
staff for      Number of      staff for
Hong Kong      staff for      the New
Island         Kowloon        Territories
---------      ---------      -----------
   25             27              198

     We have to point out that land control and lease enforcement actions are only part of the spectrum of duties of the aforesaid staff.  The LandsD does not have a breakdown for the number of staff for land control and lease enforcement work.

(b) In regard to UBW and illegal erection of additional storeys, the BD may issue an order under section 24(1) of the Buildings Ordinance requiring the demolition or rectification of the UBW by the owner.  The numbers of prosecutions instituted by the BD against non-compliance with such statutory orders in the five-year period from 2006 to 2010 are listed by geographical regions below :  

                Number of prosecutions
                ----------------------
         Hong Kong               New
Year     Island       Kowloon    Territories
----     ---------    -------    -----------
2010       865         1,276         468
2009       833         1,566         664
2008       794         1,708         589
2007       603         1,664         754
2006       600         1,899         543

     In the majority of cases involving unlawful occupation of government land, the irregularities are rectified upon receipt of notice from the LandsD.  The numbers of prosecutions instituted by the LandsD against unlawful occupation of government land in the five-year period from 2006 to 2010, broken down by geographical regions, are listed below:

                Number of prosecutions
                ----------------------
          Hong Kong              New
Year      Island      Kowloon    Territories
----      ---------   -------    -----------
2010         2           0            5
2009         0           0            9
2008         0           0           13
2007         0           0            9
2006         0           0           17

     As for private land, the LandsD acts in the private landlord capacity and takes lease enforcement action in accordance with the lease conditions. This does not involve prosecution.

(c) Prior to the implementation in April 2011 of the new initiatives for enhancing building safety, the BD took different actions against UBW depending on the level of risks posed the UBW concerned and in accordance with the prevailing enforcement policy.  In regard to UBW which had not been accorded high priority for enforcement (compared to the high priority targets mentioned earlier), the BD would normally issue advisory letters or warning notices requesting the owners to remove the UBW themselves.  If the owner failed to comply with the warning notice by the deadline, the BD would normally register the warning notice at the Land Registry (commonly known as "imposing an encumbrance").  The BD normally would not take follow-up action on those UBW for which advisory letters had been issued.

     In regard to the more serious cases or cases that had been accorded high priority for enforcement, the BD might issue an order under section 24(1) of the Buildings Ordinance requiring the demolition or rectification of the UBW by the owner.  Where the owner failed to comply with the order by the specified date, the BD would normally institute prosecution action under section 40(1BA) of the Buildings Ordinance, except for UBW which constituted obvious hazards, which would be removed by government contractors.  In the past, this approach had produced results.  

     In the light of the past practice, there had not been many cases for demolition by government contractors. The BD does not maintain statistics for them.  Where demolition works had been carried out by BDíŽs contractors, BD would recover the full costs of the works, including supervision charges, from the owners.

     The numbers of cases of unlawful occupation of government land in which clearance action was taken by the LandsD in each of the five years from 2006 to 2010 are as follows:

               Number of cases of
              unlawful occupation of
             government land in which
Year       clearance action was taken
----       ---------------------------
2010                  2,584
2009                  3,132
2008                  2,422
2007                  1,649
2006                  1,712

     Such clearance actions were carried out by staff responsible for land control actions.  The LandsD does not keep a separate account for the expenses so incurred.

(d) In taking law enforcement and lease enforcement actions, the BD and the LandsD treat all the people involved equally, regardless of their status or identity.  Therefore, separate estimations on manpower and resources required for handling cases involving different categories of people cannot be made.

     In regard to UBW cleared by BD contractors, the cost of works, including supervisory charges, would be recovered in full from the persons concerned.  As explained in part (c) above, the LandsD does not keep a separate account for expenses incurred in clearance actions involving the illegal occupation of Government land.

Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Issued at HKT 17:03

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