More funding urged to speed up building safety inspections

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2008, 12:00am

The fire risks of many old buildings makes them 'time bombs', and more funds should be earmarked for inspecting them in the wake of Sunday's fatal Mong Kok fire, according to local politicians.

Meanwhile, a Security Bureau spokesman said that fire safety equipment in all karaoke venues in old buildings would be inspected within a month. He said action would be taken against operators who break the relevant regulations.

Yau Tsim Mong district councillor Hui Tak-leung said 90 per cent of the commercial-residential buildings in the area failed to meet fire safety requirements. 'What makes things even worse is that people in these buildings often have the habit of burning offerings in staircases. It can easily cause a fire,' said Mr Hui, who is chairman of the council's community building committee.

Another councillor in the district, Henry Chan Man-yu, said fire safety measures were very poor at Cornwall Court.

'There are many smoke doors that don't work, illegal structures on the rooftop, old electric wires, and the staircases are very narrow,' he said. 'In fact, there are many similar buildings in the district and in other districts. They are time bombs that may explode at any time.'

After a short tour of a few commercial-residential buildings in Mong Kok, former director of fire services Anthony Lam Chun-man said he was shocked by the poor safety measures he found. 'Many of the smoke doors were left wide open. Some of the doors cannot stop smoke even when they are shut, due to substandard designs,' he said.

In July last year officers from the Fire Services Department and Buildings Department began inspecting 12,000 residential and commercial structures built before March 1, 1987, to improve their fire safety measures.

Up to yesterday, 1,100 structures built before 1959 had been inspected, according to the fire department. 'Obviously, there is not enough manpower,' Mr Lam said.

Yiu Chung-yim, assistant professor in the department of real estate and construction at the University of Hong Kong, agreed. 'At this speed, we would need 10 years just to inspect these buildings once.'