LCQ2: Implementation of public works projects

     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina IP and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn, in the Legislative Council today (May 17):

     There are views pointing out that the time needed for handling public consultation, the rising local labour costs and prices of construction materials as well as the exorbitant consultancy study fees for works have given rise to the issues of, among others, excessively long planning and construction periods as well as exorbitant construction costs for some works projects, such as the Relocation of Sha Tin Sewage Treatment Works to Caverns, Route 11 and the Drainage improvement works in Kwun Tong. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as it is learnt that the construction industry is facing labour shortage and the Government has proposed the implementation of a Smart Site Safety System in recent years, whether the authorities will consider introducing construction robots to assist in works implementation, so as to lower the labour costs, shorten the time for works implementation and reduce casualties; if so, of the details and implementation timetable; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) as it is learnt that consultancy firms will be engaged to conduct studies on design and construction for major works projects currently led by the Government, but such consultancy firms charge exorbitant fees and a longer time is needed for the studies, whereas a large number of qualified engineers within the Government's works departments are competent for the relevant work, of the reasons why the authorities continue to engage consultancy firms to conduct studies, as well as the factors for consideration; and
(3) whether the Government will formulate plans to reduce the costs of individual public works projects; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The Government has been striving to enhance the planning and governance of public works projects, in order to ensure quality of works, better manage cost-effectiveness, and enhance site safety performance. My response to the three parts of the question raised by the Member is as follows:
(1) The construction industry is a labour-intensive industry. We concur with the Member that the introduction of robotic technology can reduce construction cost, shorten construction time and enhance site safety. Robotic technology can be used on-site directly for conducting repetitive work processes, and also for module production in highly automated and smart production line in off-site factories. We are actively promoting the adoption of high productivity construction such as Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) and Multi-trade Integrated Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing(MiMEP), for which robotic technology is adopted in the factory to achieve better cost-effectiveness. According to a study conducted by the University of Hong Kong, adoption of MiC can reduce construction time by about 30 per cent to 50 per cent, save construction cost by about 10 per cent, uplift on-site productivity by 100 per cent to 400 per cent, and has better performance in terms of workmanship, environmental protection and safety, etc than using traditional construction methods. The Development Bureau (DEVB) has established a cross-departmental high productivity construction steering committee to lead and co-ordinate the development of high productivity construction such as MiC. We target to complete the relevant tasks within this fiscal year, so as to formulate a comprehensive policy to promote the development of these high productivity technologies. 
     The DEVB has also established a task force to lead and co-ordinate works departments in promoting the application of applied research and development in public works, including adoption of robotic technology on-site for paint spraying, surveying, and drilling works. At the same time, we are also actively promoting digitalisation of public works, including application of Building Information Modeling, Smart Site Safety System and Digital Works Supervision System.
(2) For large public works projects, investigation and design studies normally involve multi-faceted and complex tasks, including land use planning, engineering designs, surveys, technical assessments, seeking approvals pursuant to statutory procedures. Among these tasks, technical assessments entail a variety of areas such as environmental impact assessment, traffic impact, drainage and sewerage impact, while engineering designs cover different aspects such as bridges, tunnels, geotechnical works, hydraulics. All these tasks demand collaborative input from professional and technical staff of many different disciplines. 

     Depending on the project scale, the number of professional and technical staff engaged in a project team may range from 60 or 70 to even over 100. Works departments would prudently examine whether they have sufficient and suitable in-house manpower resources to cope with the project investigation requirements so as to determine the need to employ consultants.
     In fact, employing consultants could avoid the need for works departments to recruit a large number of staff so that their staff establishment could be controlled at a reasonable level. As compared with the Government which has a large structure, consultants are more flexible in staff deployment and they could readily mobilise requisite professional and technical staff to meet the project needs, and even engage experts to help resolve complicated technical problems, thereby enhancing the work efficiency.
     During consultant selection exercises, our departments would thoroughly evaluate the tenders to ensure that the consultants' fees are reasonable and cost-effective and sufficient manpower resources will be deployed to undertake the related work. Based on our analysis of some previous cases, consultancy fees for investigation and design studies of large public works projects generally account for about two per cent to three per cent of the overall project costs. Well-conducted consultancy studies are conducive to the smooth implementation of public works projects.
(3) In order to achieve cost saving of public works projects more effectively, the DEVB established the Project Cost Management Office (PCMO) in mid-2016, and upgraded it to the Project Strategy and Governance Office (PSGO) in April 2019. Apart from scrutinising the estimates of public works projects, the PSGO also implements strategic measures to strengthen project governance comprehensively. The PSGO participates in project vetting process starting from project inception stage, and assists works departments to optimise the project design for foundation works, building layout, etc under the principles of "fitness-for purpose" and "no frill" in order to achieve the result of cost reduction. Since its establishment, the PSGO/PCMO has scrutinised more than 480 public works projects which have to seek funding approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, and successfully identified cost saving of more than $160 billion from the total original project estimates of $980 billion. 
     In addition, the PSGO formulates strategic measures to uplift project governance capabilities of policy bureaux and departments, by issuing guidelines to promote wider adoption of high productivity construction, digitalisation, innovative materials and construction technologies, as well as to strengthen training and collaboration with industry stakeholders. We will keep the momentum to complete the above tasks, so as to enhance the performance of public works projects.

Ends/Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Issued at HKT 16:05