Secretary for Development addresses concerns over unauthorised building works during LegCo session

Bernadette Linn

24th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) Questions were raised by Hon Paul Tse during the Legislative Council session today regarding the persistent issue of unauthorised building works (UBWs) in Hong Kong, highlighting the potential dangers they pose, especially in older composite buildings. Ms Bernadette Linn, the Secretary for Development, responded, detailing the government’s approach and the measures being taken to address these concerns.

The backdrop of this inquiry is the grim reminder of a recent tragedy — the fire at New Lucky House in Jordan, which resulted in five fatalities and 40 injuries. This incident underscores the risks associated with UBWs and illegal structural alterations, particularly in buildings over 50 years old that combine residential and commercial usage.

In response to Tse’s questions, Ms Linn provided comprehensive statistics and insights into the current state of UBWs. As of the end of 2023, there are 5,442 composite buildings aged 50 years or older in Hong Kong. Over 53,000 Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS) notices have been issued, with approximately 8,000 of these orders not complied with. Additionally, more than 55,000 removal orders have been issued to address UBWs, with around 12,000 cases of non-compliance.

Ms Linn emphasised the Buildings Department’s (BD) adoption of a “risk-based” enforcement strategy, prioritising cases that pose obvious hazards or imminent dangers. This pragmatic approach is aimed at optimally utilising limited resources to deal with the large volume of cases effectively. The department has also been proactive in large-scale operations, targeting buildings most at risk and stepping up prosecutions against non-compliance.

Following the devastating Jordan fire, the BD has reassessed its enforcement priorities. The focus is now on buildings that pose higher risks, such as those with single staircases, a high concentration of guesthouses or subdivided units, and those that have ignored MBIS notices.

The government also recognises the need for ongoing adjustments to their enforcement strategies. As part of this, a comprehensive review of the Buildings Ordinance is in progress. This review aims to streamline prosecution procedures, lower prosecution thresholds, and increase penalties to more effectively combat illegal building works.

Addressing the suggestion by some community members to allow the settlement of UBW cases through financial penalties, Ms Linn clarified that this approach could undermine the principles of building and public safety. Such a policy could also be perceived as unfair to those who comply with building regulations and could send a misleading message that financial compensation can negate illegal actions.