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LCQ10: Unauthorised building works in NT village houses

     Following is a question by the Hon Lau Wong-fat and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 16):


     Will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  when the authorities started to regulate (including enacting relevant legislation) the buildings built or rebuilt on old schedule lots in the New Territories, together with the relevant details; and

(b)  of the details of the regulatory actions taken in the past, including conducting consultation and publicity and education activities, as well as taking enforcement actions (including the respective numbers of verbal or written advice issued and the number of prosecutions instituted), together with a breakdown by year and district?



     The Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123) governs the planning, design and construction of buildings and the associated works in Hong Kong.  When first enacted in 1955, the BO was only applied to "Hong Kong, Aplichau, Kowloon and New Kowloon".  Since January 1, 1961, the BO has been applied to the New Territories (NT) in the manner provided by the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance (Cap. 121).

     The reference to "buildings built or rebuilt on old schedule lots in the NT" is taken to mean buildings erected on land leased under the Block Government Lease in the NT.  The use of such leased land should comply with the relevant lease conditions, including the provision that the property owner should obtain prior approval from the Authority for erection or rebuilding of houses on such land.

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

(a)  Under the BO, building works may only be carried out after obtaining the prior approval and consent of the Building Authority (BA).  However, NT village houses which meet the specifications stipulated in the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance are exempt from specific provisions of the BO and the regulations made under the BO.

     The Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance covers all building works carried out in the NT on or after January 1, 1961, including reconstruction works.  It also clearly prescribes the exemption for NT village houses which meet the stated specifications.  The Ordinance is applicable to all buildings in the NT, irrespective of whether the building is erected on land leased under Block Government Lease.

(b)  Any building works not exempted under the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance and undertaken without the BA's prior approval and consent are illegal.

     The Buildings Department (BD) has all along taken enforcement action against unauthorised building works (UBWs) in village houses.  In line with the then prevailing enforcement policy, BD's past enforcement action had focused on UBWs which constituted obvious hazard or imminent danger to life or property and UBWs in progress.  Having regard to the current regulatory regime for control of NT village houses, the actual situation on the ground and the views of various parties, and also taking reference from the past experience and strategy in tackling UBWs in urban areas, the Administration announced last year an enhanced enforcement policy viz: on the fundamental premise of ensuring building and public safety and in compliance with existing legislation, to enhance enforcement against UBWs in NT village houses through categorisation of UBWs and prioritisation of enforcement.  UBWs will be categorised by reference to the severity of their breach of law and the risks to public safety, which are to be dealt with by adopting corresponding measures.  The new enforcement policy has been implemented since April 1, 2012.

     On publicity and public education, the BD has all along been active in organising publicity through advertisements, posters, TV, radio and public transport, to foster public awareness of building safety on the one hand, and to complement the BD's law enforcement actions on the other.  Specifically for publicising the new enforcement policy and the associated arrangement, the BD launched a series of publicity and public education activities on tackling UBWs in NT village houses in November 2011.  The publicity activities included direct mailing of promotional pamphlets; Announcements of Public Interest on TV, radio, buses and trains; newspaper supplements; as well as outdoor advertisements and posters.  The BD has launched another round of publicity in late March 2012, with emphasis on enhanced enforcement against UBWs in village houses and the implementation of the reporting scheme for UBWs.  In addition to the publicity channels mentioned above, the BD has distributed the UBWs report forms, guidelines and promotional pamphlets by direct mailing to NT village households to facilitate their reporting.  We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these publicity activities and enhance the publicity programme as necessary.

     As mentioned above, the BD does not make any difference in its enforcement action because of the nature of the land lease.  The Department therefore does not keep separate statistics on enforcement actions taken against UBWs in newly built or rebuilt houses on land leased under the Block Government Lease in the NT.  According to record, the numbers of advisory letters and removal orders issued by the BD against UBWs in NT village houses, in each of the years from 2007 to 2012 (up to April 30, 2012) as well as broken down by districts, are tabulated below:

                   Number of      Number of
                   advisory        removal
Year               letters         orders
----             -----------    -----------
2007                  158             152
2008                  424             423
2009                  291             291
2010                  305             304
2011                  390             377
(up to April 30)       45              45
                     -------       --------
Total                1613            1592

                   Number of      Number of
                   advisory        removal
District           letters         orders
----             -----------    -----------
Islands              20               20
Kwai Tsing            3                3
North               155              150
Sai Kung            290              288
Sha Tin              93               92
Tai Po              327              324
Tuen Mun            101              100
Tsuen Wan            38               37
Yuen Long           586              578
                 --------        ---------
Total              1613             1592

     Where an owner fails to comply with the requirements of a removal order by the specified deadline, the BD would normally institute prosecution under section 40(1BA) of the BO against the owner concerned.  The numbers of prosecutions instituted by the BD against non-compliant cases and the numbers of convictions in each of the years from 2007 to 2012 (up to April 30, 2012) are listed below:

                   Number of      Number of
Year            prosecutions    convictions
----            ------------    -----------
2007                 17                 12
2008                 66                 38
2009                132                 76
2010                129                 77
2011                204                169
(up to April 30)     36                 30
                  ----------      ----------
Total               584                402

Ends/Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:30


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