Fire Services should help us unlock a key economic resource

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2007, 12:00am

The moving of many industries across the border in the past few decades has left nearly 70 per cent of Hong Kong's old industrial buildings either empty or only partly used as godowns.

In 2004, about 1.51 million square metres of industrial floor area lay idle, forgoing about HK$7.5 billion in potential rental revenue. Those industries which left Hong Kong are unlikely to return but, if we can make good use of these old buildings, lots of jobs can be generated and the economy diversified.

Creative, innovative or venture businesses should be encouraged to use them as start-up bases, with the Lands Department offering special waivers on usage. Some start-up operators cannot afford space in modern commercial buildings. Who knows - maybe such a deal could see the rise of a Hong Kong Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

At present, we have nothing to offer innovative ventures. We must have multiple tiers of industry to support the economy, so more jobs can be created. We cannot rely just on the finance and banking sectors.

Where is the problem in implementing such a policy? One answer lies in the failed applications for waivers by people who want to use industrial buildings for some other purpose. Of those rejected in the past year, nearly 95 per cent were the result of objections by the Fire Services Department. There were extremely few successful cases, and then only for purely office use.

There is no doubt that these old structures do not meet modern commercial building safety requirements. However, would it be too much to ask the Fire Services Department to advise landlords on how to upgrade safety? There are too many conditions put on the use of these older buildings, and those conditions are too strict. Without better support from the Fire Services Department, making a waiver application is building a castle in the air.

The Fire Services Department owes it to the people of Hong Kong to provide a real service in an area that could benefit the whole community. If that can't be done, the government should set up a body specifically to look into this situation and advise the related departments on effective policy.

Tommy Hui, Yuen Long