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LCQ17: Regulating vehicle maintenance workshops

     Following is a question by the Hon Tony Tse and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Yau Shing-mu, in the Legislative Council today (November 25):


     In April this year, an explosion occurred in a workshop for repair and maintenance of vehicles (vehicle workshop) in Tsz Wan Shan when a liquefied petroleum gas taxi was being repaired there, resulting in casualties and damage to property. Some members of the public have expressed concern about the adequacy of the regulation of vehicle workshops. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the authorities launched a Voluntary Registration Scheme for Vehicle Maintenance Workshops in July this year and vehicle workshops registered under the Scheme (registered vehicle workshops) must comply with or pledge to abide by the Practice Guidelines for Vehicle Maintenance Workshops which specify the requirements on different aspects of vehicle workshops, of the respective current numbers of vehicle workshops and registered vehicle workshops, broken down by District Council district; whether the authorities will introduce a mandatory registration scheme for vehicle workshops;

(2) whether the authorities will stipulate that vehicle workshops must comply with the terms of the relevant land leases and the requirements under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) or the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131) before they are permitted to be registered; of the channels for members of the public to enquire whether individual vehicle workshops are operating in breach of the terms of relevant land leases (non-compliant workshops);

(3) as it has been reported that the aforesaid vehicle workshop in which an explosion occurred is located within a residential area, and the permitted use of the unit concerned under the relevant land lease is "shop for non-domestic purpose", whether the authorities have investigated if the use of the relevant properties for operating that particular vehicle workshop and the other existing vehicle workshops in various districts is in breach of the relevant terms of the land leases; if they have investigated, of the outcome;

(4) in the past three years, regarding those properties in which non-compliant workshops are located, of the numbers of cases in which the Lands Department (i) issued warning letters to the owners of the properties concerned, (ii) delivered the warning letters to the Land Registry for registration, and (iii) resumed the properties concerned; whether the authorities have any policy or plan to eradicate all non-compliant workshops; if they do, of the details;

(5) given that under the Town Planning Ordinance, the Planning Department (PlanD) is empowered to take law enforcement actions against unauthorised developments within development permission areas (DPAs) only, and since the vehicle workshops in the urban areas are not located in DPAs, the PlanD cannot take law enforcement actions against those vehicle workshops in the urban areas which are in breach of the permitted uses laid down in the relevant statutory plans, whether the authorities will consider amending the relevant ordinances to eradicate such vehicle workshops; and

(6) whether it has assessed the public's demand for the vehicle repair and maintenance services provided by vehicle workshops, so that the relevant assessment outcome can serve as a reference when formulating enhanced regulatory plans for vehicle workshops; if it has, of the criteria adopted for conducting the assessment concerned?



     At present, different aspects of the operation of vehicle maintenance workshops (vehicle workshops) must be in compliance with a number of legal requirements regulated by different Government bureaux and departments, including:

(a) occupational safety and health of employees - regulated by the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Labour Department in accordance with the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance (Cap. 59) and the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance (Cap. 509);

(b) location, building and fire safety - regulated respectively by the Development Bureau and the Buildings Department, as well as the Security Bureau and the Fire Services Department in accordance with the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123);

(c) gas safety - regulated by the Environment Bureau and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) in accordance with the Gas Safety Ordinance (Cap. 51);

(d) storage of dangerous goods - regulated by the Security Bureau and the Fire Services Department in accordance with the Dangerous Goods Ordinance (Cap. 295); and

(e) air pollution, water pollution, noise and waste disposal - regulated by the Environmental Protection Department in accordance with the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 311), Water Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 358), Noise Control Ordinance (Cap. 400) and Waste Disposal Ordinance (Cap. 354).

     My replies, prepared in consultation with the Development Bureau, to the various parts of the Hon Tony Tse's question are as follows:

(1) and (6) Since the EMSD launched the Voluntary Registration Scheme for Vehicle Maintenance Workshops (VRSVMW) in July this year, over 400 applications have been received, of which 176 vehicle workshops have been registered successfully, while the other applications are being processed. According to the statistics of EMSD, there are 2 736 vehicle workshops in Hong Kong as at August this year. The number of vehicle workshops in Hong Kong and the number of vehicle workshops registered under the VRSVMW in each district are at Annex.

     As we indicated at the special meeting of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Panel on Transport on July 22 this year, in order to further enhance the standard of vehicle maintenance trade (the Trade), the EMSD would conduct an in-depth study on the feasibility of putting in place a mandatory registration system for the vehicle maintenance trade (both mechanics and workshops) having regard to the experience of the two voluntary registration schemes for vehicle mechanics and vehicle workshops. In the study, the EMSD will conduct a survey to gauge the general acceptance by the Trade and the public in respect of such mandatory registration, and carry out a regulatory impact assessment. The Government will report timely to the LegCo Panel on Transport on the outcomes of the study.

(2) As I have pointed out in the preamble, different aspects of the operation of vehicle workshops must be in compliance with various legal requirements. The EMSD launched the VRSVMW with the objective to motivate the Trade to enhance their service standard on top of the current legal regulatory framework. To encourage more vehicle workshops to join the VRSVMW, vehicle workshops are eligible to apply for registration as long as they fulfil certain basic requirements. EMSD will then vet the applications according to the requirements for different types of registration under the scheme. Currently, there are four types of registration under the VRSVMW, with Type Four being vehicle workshops situated at a residential building or a composite building with domestic part; or those only pledge to endeavour to abide by the Practice Guidelines for Vehicle Maintenance Workshops. The EMSD will not consider new applications for Type Four registration three years after the launch of the VRSVMW, whilst those vehicle workshops already registered under this type will be retained on the registration list subject to their compliance with the registration renewal requirements.

     According to the Development Bureau, members of the public who wish to enquire whether individual vehicle workshops are operating in breach of the terms of the land leases may approach the Land Registry to check the terms and conditions of the relevant lease of the lot, and seek professional advice if necessary. If the EMSD receives complaints that vehicle workshops violate existing legislation, it will follow the existing practice to refer them to the responsible departments for follow-up.

(3) As pointed out by the Development Bureau, whether a vehicle workshop is in breach of its lease conditions cannot be generalised as it depends on the relevant lease conditions of the lot and the actual operation of the premises.

     The lease of the lot concerned where the Tsz Wan Shan vehicle workshop explosion happened in April was located stipulates that the ground floor of any buildings of the lot can be used for residential or commercial purposes. After seeking legal advice and considering the relevant lease condition and its context, the Lands Department (LandsD) takes the view that "vehicle repairing" in general is not in breach of the user restriction of "commercial" use.

     In general, as regards lease enforcement, when the LandsD receives a complaint, referral or enquiry, it will conduct site inspection and, having regard to the actual circumstances of the case and the conditions of the relevant land lease, determine whether there is any breach of the lease conditions (including seeking legal advice if necessary). If a breach is found, the LandsD will take appropriate lease enforcement actions to rectify the breach of land lease.

(4) In the past three years (i.e. 2012-2014), the LandsD received a total of 13 complaints related to vehicle workshops, and took lease enforcement actions in six cases with confirmed breach of lease conditions, including issuing warning letters to the owners concerned. Five of the confirmed cases were rectified after issuing a warning letter, and the remaining one case was rectified after the LandsD had sent the warning letter to the Land Registry for registration. As all six cases were rectified after lease enforcement actions, there was no case of land re-entered or premises vested in the past three years. As land lease is a form of private contract, lease enforcement actions taken by the LandsD as the landlord and a party to the contract do not involve law enforcement or prosecution.

     The LandsD adopts the same criteria in handling all cases of breach of lease conditions, and will continue to handle cases involving breach of lease conditions under the existing lease enforcement mechanisms, including places operating for "vehicle repairing business".

(5) The Development Bureau points out that the Town Planning Ordinance (TPO) (Cap. 131) was amended in 1991 to empower the Planning Authority (i.e. Director of Planning) to incorporate individual rural areas in the New Territories into development permission areas (DPAs), and to take enforcement actions against unauthorised developments found on land in these areas. However, in areas not covered by DPAs (including the urban and most new town areas), the Planning Authority is not empowered to take enforcement actions. Therefore, the Planning Department cannot take enforcement actions under TPO against suspected cases of land uses in breach of the outline zoning plans in the urban areas. As regards the proposal of extending the planning enforcement authority to areas outside DPAs, the issue was discussed in the course of deliberation of the Town Planning (Amendment) Bill 2003. The conclusion is, owing to the relatively high-density developments and complicated uses of buildings in the urban areas and new towns, and that the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) and land leases have long been adopted as the basis for regulating developments and land uses, if planning control is to be extended to these areas, a series of technical and interface problems will have to be resolved, and the demand on staff resources in Government departments will also be enormous. The Government currently has no plan to extend the planning enforcement authority.

Ends/Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:31


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