Building collapse sends signal for concerted government action

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am

The collapse last month of the building in Ma Tau Wai Road, To Kwa Wan, with all its consequences, was sad but not surprising.

There are literally tens of thousands of buildings constructed in the years when we were too short of water to wash the sea sand that had been brought in by barge from Mirs Bay and was used in their construction. This was in the days before the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, when supervision, to put it mildly, was not so stringent as it is today. It was only years later that river sand became available.

The problem is so serious that I believe a new approach is needed to clear these buildings and to alleviate the dreadful conditions endured by those who live in them. Long ago, governor Murray MacLehose said that housing was the principal source of unhappiness in Hong Kong. He could say it again today. Unfortunately, all the programmes that more or less grew out of his watch lapsed in 2002.

The Urban Renewal Authority, faced as it is with the need to build to make a profit, has to pick and choose areas to redevelop that will be profitable.

The URA cannot deal with buildings like those in the 'Thirteen Streets' in Ma Tau Wai (a dilapidated area known for its 13 parallel streets). There are too many of them. Forty or even more years have gone by, and the situation can only worsen.

The work of the Housing Society and the Home Affairs and Buildings departments in helping to maintain the buildings, where they can, is worthwhile but not a long-term solution.

All these efforts need to be brought under one command.

The URA should be relieved of the burden of paying a premium. Land should be made available for rehousing, such as at Kai Tak in East Kowloon. Once land is cleared, it should be put up for sale.

In other words, we need to separate the URA from the profit motive, just as the 10-year housing programme in 1973 was separated but not divorced from making land available for sale.

David Akers-Jones, Mid-Levels