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LCQ16: Fire safety of buildings
     Following is a question by the Hon Vincent Cheng and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Tang Ping-keung, in the Legislative Council today (June 15):


     It has been reported that fires break out from time to time in old buildings in Hong Kong, resulting in casualties. Regarding fire safety of buildings, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current number of buildings in Hong Kong which do not meet the current fire safety standards and, among such buildings, the number of those whose owners or occupiers have failed to comply with the Fire Safety Directions (Directions) issued by the Hong Kong Fire Services Department (FSD) and the Buildings Department (BD) to enhance the fire safety measures of their buildings to a level that conforms to the current fire safety standards (with a breakdown by District Council district);

(2) given that in the light of a fire incident that occurred in a tenement building in Yau Ma Tei in November 2020, the FSD and the BD launched in the same month a special operation to inspect buildings aged 60 or above and take law enforcement actions, of the relevant inspection findings and the following figures: (a) the number of prosecutions instituted, and (b) the numbers of (i) Directions, (ii) fire hazard abatement notices and (iii) statutory orders for removal of unauthorised building works issued; the number of cases in which the relevant Directions/notices/orders have been complied with to date;

(3) given that the Government, in partnership with the Urban Renewal Authority, implemented a total of two rounds of the Fire Safety Improvement Works Subsidy Scheme in 2018 and 2020, of the respective total numbers of applications received and approved; whether it will launch a new round of the Scheme;

(4) as the Government plans to amend the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) to empower the BD and the FSD to carry out fire safety improvement works for owners of old buildings who have not complied with the requirements of the Ordinance and to recover the fees from them afterwards, of the latest progress of and timetable for the legislative amendment exercise (including when it will conduct public consultation and introduce a bill to this Council); and

(5) given that in October last year, the Home Affairs Department and the FSD, together with the District Fire Safety Committees of Yau Tsim Mong, Sham Shui Po and Kowloon City, distributed home use portable firefighting equipment to households of old-style domestic units in these three districts, of the respective pieces of firefighting equipment distributed in such districts; whether such operation is still ongoing, and whether the two government departments will conduct such operation in other districts; if so, of the timetable; if not, the reasons for that?



     Having consulted the Fire Services Department (FSD), the Buildings Department (BD), the Home Affairs Department and the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), the consolidated reply to the Hon Cheng's question is as follows:

(1) The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) (the Ordinance) stipulates that composite and domestic buildings which were constructed on or before March 1, 1987, or with the plans of the building works first submitted for approval on or before that day (target buildings), must be enhanced to meet modern fire protection 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 in relation to fire service installations and equipment (FSIs) is the Director of Fire Services. The FSD and the BD will issue Fire Safety Directions (Directions) to owners and/or occupiers with regard to fire safety measures of buildings under their respective purview and specify the required fire safety improvement works.

     Before issuing any Directions, the FSD and the BD will deploy officers to conduct joint inspection of the target buildings. Directions will be issued to owners and/or occupiers in light of the actual condition of the building and in accordance with the Ordinance, requiring them to provide appropriate FSIs and/or carry out works in relation to fire safety construction, with a view to enhancing the fire safety standards of their buildings.

     There are about 13 500 target buildings regulated under the Ordinance. Since the Ordinance came into force in July 2007, the FSD and the BD have been conducting joint inspections of these target buildings in stages according to the plan. Ten thousand five hundred old target composite buildings (TCBs) will be inspected in the first stage, and 3 000 target domestic buildings will be inspected in the second stage. The two departments are now conducting the first stage of inspection. As at end of April 2022, the number of buildings, which have yet to comply with the Directions issued, are tabulated by District Council districts distribution below:
District No. of buildings which have yet to comply with the Directions issued by the FSD No. of buildings which have yet to comply with the Directions issued by the BD
Islands 22 45
Central and Western 954 994
Wan Chai 724 743
Eastern 619 629
Southern 214 214
Kowloon City 959 961
Kwun Tong 220 210
Wong Tai Sin 274 277
Yau Tsim Mong 1 686 1 710
Sham Shui Po 1 221 1 225
Tsuen Wan 370 372
Kwai Tsing 165 168
Tuen Mun 159 160
Sha Tin 154 156
Sai Kung 26 23
Tai Po 232 231
North 325 320
Yuen Long 406 405
Total 8 730 8 843

     In respect of the numbers of Directions issued to owners and/or occupiers, the FSD has issued over 242 000 Directions to owners and/or occupiers. At present, over 94 960 Directions have been complied with by owners and/or occupiers or discharged (Note 1) (i.e. Directions which do not require follow-up actions), which makes up to almost 40 per cent; and a 29 per cent on the BD's side.

(2) In light of the risks exposed by the Yau Ma Tei fire incident in November 2020, the FSD and the BD embarked on a special exercise on November 23, 2020, and substantially completed the inspection of about 2 800 domestic or composite buildings that are of comparable age as the building concerned in the fire incident (namely, aged 60 or above) at the end of 2020.

     The FSD and the BD, depending on the inspection findings as well as information gathered, took appropriate enforcement actions according to the relevant legislation against contraventions, so as to ensure fire and building safety. The FSD paid special attention to the obstruction to means of escape or locking up of exits, damaged FSIs, over-storage of dangerous goods, etc, and took enforcement actions in accordance with the Fire Services Ordinance (Cap. 95) and the Dangerous Goods Ordinance (Cap. 295), including instituting prosecution or issuing Fire Hazard Abatement Notices (FHANs). The BD paid special attention to conditions of the common escape routes and whether there were fire hazards in the target buildings, and issued removal orders under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) (BO) to the owners concerned, requiring them to remove unauthorised building works within a specified timeframe.

     As at end-May 2022, the FSD has issued about 2 740 FHANs among which about 2 600 FHANs have been complied with. The FSD has also instituted prosecutions against persons responsible for the relevant buildings in nine cases.

     For the BD, as at end-May 2022, it has issued about 3 590 removal orders under the BO regarding the conditions of the common escape routes and fire hazards in the target buildings, among which 133 removal orders have been complied with. The BD has also instigated prosecutions against the concerned buildings owners in 13 cases.

     The FSD and the BD will continue to follow up on the relevant compliance status.

(3) The Government, in partnership with the URA, implemented the $2 billion Fire Safety Improvement Works Subsidy Scheme (FSWS) since 2018 to subsidise owners of eligible TCBs in carrying out the required fire safety improvement works in complying with the requirements pursuant to the Ordinance. Subsequently, the Government has further injected $3.5 billion to the FSWS. It is anticipated that the FSWS could benefit around 6 000 to 6 500 buildings.

     The first round of FSWS application was open for application from July to October 2018, while the second round was open for application from July to October 2020. As at end-May 2022, the URA has received a total of about 3 400 applications in the two rounds of application, among which about 3 100 applications have met the basic eligibility criteria. Among the applications meeting the basic requirements, the URA has issued "Approval-in-principle" letters to about 2 600 applicants. The Government will review timely and consider whether to launch another round of application according to the actual need.

(4) Despite the fact that the Government has been proactively providing assistance to old buildings owners on various fronts, some of them, especially owners of "three-nil" buildings (Note 2), may still have difficulties in complying with the requirements of the Ordinance due to the lack of technical knowledge and/or co-ordination capability, etc. The Government agrees it is necessary to take into account the BD's experience in the work of building safety and the similar mechanism under the BO, and amend the Ordinance in order to empower the FSD and the BD to carry out fire safety improvement works for owners of old target buildings who are incapable of complying with the Directions (default works), and to recover the relevant costs incurred from such owners upon completion of the default works.

     The Government listened to the views of the Panel on Security of the Legislative Council on the basic principles and key issues regarding the proposed amendments to the Ordinance on September 7, 2021. The Government plans to launch a public consultation later this year, followed by the formulation of a suitable mechanism and amendment to the legislation to empower the relevant departments to carry out the related work.

(5) In light of the risks exposed by the Yau Ma Tei fire incident in November 2020, there were opinions in the community that the provision of fire extinguishers or fire blankets to residents in need (for example, residents in "three-nil" buildings) would help enhance home fire safety. Although these portable fire service equipment is not an alternative to enhancing fire safety of old buildings, from fire safety perspective, the Government agrees that it is conducive to enhancing fire safety at home by having fire extinguishers and fire blankets in the units.

     With reference to the above views and the fire risks of the relevant buildings, the Government distributed fire extinguishers and fire blankets to eligible households of old buildings in districts with more "three-nil" buildings (i.e. Yau Tsim Mong, Kowloon City and Sham Shui Po) as a pilot. As at end-April 2022, the number of portable fire service equipment distributed to the abovementioned three districts is about 1 000 sets (i.e. one fire extinguisher and one fire blanket).

     The Government is currently reviewing the response and effectiveness of the scheme in the three pilot districts. Depending on the result of the review, the Government will study on how to take forward the work in a better and more effective way in other districts.

Note 1: Directions that are discharged include Directions related to demolished buildings, as well as buildings that have been approved to adopt facilitation measures, etc.

Note 2: "Three-nil" buildings refer to buildings which do not have owners' corporations or any form of residents' organisations, or do not engage property management companies.
Ends/Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Issued at HKT 17:25
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