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LCQ6: Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance

     Following is a question by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (March 2):


     According to the relevant requirements in the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance, the authorities may issue fire safety directions (directions) to require owners or occupiers of composite and domestic buildings completed on or before March 1, 1987 to improve, by a specified date, the fire service installations (e.g. automatic sprinkler systems and emergency lighting) and fire safety construction (e.g. fire resisting construction) for the parts of their buildings intended for non-domestic purposes. However, quite a number of owners who have received the directions have relayed to me that they have encountered technical and financial difficulties in complying with the directions. Some owners have been fined for failing to comply with the directions, and they worry that they will further be prosecuted by the authorities. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department (BD) are to conduct joint inspections on fire safety of 9 000 old composite buildings (target buildings) under the first phase, of the progress of such inspection work, the number of directions issued so far and the number of buildings involved; among the target buildings which have received the directions, of the respective numbers of those which have complied with the directions, those for which extensions have been granted and those which have not complied with the directions on expiry of the deadline (with a breakdown by the District Council district in which the buildings concerned are located);

(2) of the number of cases to-date in which the authorities instituted prosecutions against persons who had contravened the directions, the number of buildings involved in such cases and, among such buildings, the number of those for which no owners' corporation has been formed; whether the authorities know the reasons which have rendered the persons concerned unable to comply with the directions, and whether they have given any support to such persons before instituting prosecutions; if they have, of the details; and

(3) given that the existing legislation empowers BD to arrange government contractors to carry out demolition works on unauthorised building works, and then to recover the relevant costs from the parties concerned, whether the authorities will consider, by making reference to such a practice, amending the relevant legislation to empower the relevant government departments to carry out improvement works, on behalf of those owners and occupiers who have yet to comply with the directions, on the fire service installations of the buildings concerned, and then to recover the relevant costs from such owners and occupiers upon completion of the works, so as to avoid those persons who are unable to comply with the directions being prosecuted by the authorities?



     The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) (the Ordinance) came into operation on July 1, 2007.  It stipulates that fire safety of composite and domestic buildings which were constructed by March 1, 1987, or with their plans of the building works first submitted for approval on or before that day, should be enhanced to better meet the current requirements.  Under the Ordinance, the enforcement authority on fire safety measures in relation to planning, design and construction of buildings is the Director of Buildings, while the enforcement authority on fire service installations and equipment (FSIs) is the Director of Fire Services.  The Fire Services Department (FSD) and the Buildings Department (BD) will issue Fire Safety Directions (Directions) to owners and/or occupiers with regard to fire safety measures of the relevant buildings and specify the required fire safety improvement works.

     My reply to the three parts of Dr Hon Leung's question is as follows:

(1) As at the end of January 2016, FSD and BD have inspected a total of 7 827 old composite buildings and issued around 125 300 and 50 400 Directions respectively to the owners and occupiers of 5 453 of the inspected target buildings.  Of the Directions issued, around 39 900 (about 32%) issued by FSD and 10 500 (about 21%) issued by BD have been complied with or discharged, the breakdown by districts of which is tabulated at Annex.

     FSD and BD normally give owners and/or occupiers one year to comply with the Directions.  If the relevant owners need more time to prepare for and carry out the improvement works, for example due to the formation of an owners' corporation (OC), the departments will consider their applications for extending the compliance period of the Directions in the light of the justifications provided and the scale of works involved and so forth.

(2) and (3) We are aware that the owners of some old buildings may not be able to fully comply with the requirements set out in the Directions due to structural or spatial constraints of their buildings.  As such, the enforcement authorities will, without compromising basic fire safety, adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach in handling individual cases.  Having regard to the circumstances of individual buildings and information provided by the authorised persons in relation to the execution of the Directions, the enforcement authorities will enforce certain requirements with reasonable flexibility or consider accepting alternative proposals put forward by the owners.  Case officers of FSD and BD are prepared to meet with owners to explain to them the Directions and assist them in solving potential problems associated with the works.

     We understand that "three-nil" buildings (i.e. buildings without OCs, residents' organisations or property management companies) may encounter difficulties in coordinating fire safety improvement works.  As such, FSD and BD will refer a list of target buildings without OCs to the Home Affairs Department (HAD) so that the latter may promptly assist owners.  To strengthen the provision of free professional advice and support services to "three-nil" buildings and enhance building management and maintenance works on all fronts, including complying with the requirements of the Directions, HAD has implemented the Building Management Professional Advisory Service Scheme, engaging professional property management companies to provide one-stop professional support services to target buildings, which include organising and assisting owners in the establishment of OCs, helping them to apply for various subsidies or loan schemes for maintenance works, as well as following up on the works and tendering matters.

     On financial support, in order to assist owners of private buildings in conducting maintenance and repair of their buildings (including the FSIs therein), the Government, the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) have been operating various financial assistance schemes for owners in need.  Those schemes include the Building Safety Loan Scheme, the Integrated Building Maintenance Assistance Scheme and the Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners.  Fire safety improvement works pertaining to the Ordinance have been incorporated into the list of works eligible for subsidies or loans under these schemes.  HKHS and URA will provide professional advice and technical support to assist owners in carrying out fire safety improvement works.

     If owners fail to comply with the Directions within a reasonable period or provide sufficient justifications to support their applications for time extension, the departments do have the responsibility to take enforcement actions under the Ordinance to ensure fire safety of old buildings.  The circumstances of each case, including follow-up actions taken by individual owners on the Directions, will be considered before prosecution is initiated.  From the implementation of the Ordinance to the end of January 2016, FSD took out 189 prosecutions involving 44 buildings, among which 27 were without OCs, while BD initiated 128 prosecutions involving 21 buildings, among which six were without OCs.

     At present, there is no provision in the Ordinance empowering the enforcement authorities to carry out fire safety improvement works for target buildings.  If government departments were to conduct certain works on the owners' behalf, particularly those non-emergency works relating to private properties, the departments would face great difficulties.  For instance, the owners concerned may disagree with the location of installing fire service water tanks or hose reel systems proposed by the departments due to title issues, spatial constraints and impact on the appearance of their buildings.  Since these types of works involve various feasible proposals and works arrangements, and the associated costs vary subject to the proposals to be adopted, the owners must deliberate on the proposals and reach a consensus before the works are carried out.  It is therefore not appropriate for the enforcement authorities to make such decisions or to carry out the works for the owners.  If the departments were to forcibly carry out the works, it could lead to litigation and delay the progress of the works.

     On the whole, the relevant departments will review the measures implemented from time to time and continue to explore various works options, with a view to streamlining the procedures in conducting fire safety improvement works for old buildings and reducing the costs incurred by the owners, on the pre-requisite of not compromising basic fire safety.  We hope that these measures will reasonably enhance the fire safety of the old buildings, strengthen the protection for and to people who work, recreate or live at these places, and reduce the threat of fire incidents.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:25


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