Rules relaxed on arts in converted factory sites

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 March, 2010, 12:00am

The government is to relax rules for small theatres operating in converted industrial buildings so that popular shows already running can continue to be staged at cheaper venues.

The Development Opportunities Office said yesterday it would try to prevent disruption to artistic and creative endeavours already under way in industrial buildings to be converted to non-industrial use under a new policy to take effect tomorrow.

The new measure is also aimed at easing concerns of local arts groups that fear they could be forced out of existing buildings after conversion because rents will increase and some activities - such as staging performances - might no longer be allowed under the building rules.

Under the new policy, owners of industrial buildings do not need to pay a land premium to change their building from industrial to other uses such as retail, arts or commercial activities. Buildings must be at least 15 years old and the whole building must be converted.

A policy address proposed in October to make better use of vacated industrial buildings and to clear fire risks in mixed-use buildings.

Head of the development office, Laurie Lo Chi-hong, said the Buildings Department was preparing a code of practice that would relax rules for operating small premises for public entertainment in converted industrial buildings.

Under the relaxed rules, no more than 500 people would be allowed to attend shows at the premises and buildings must have adequate emergency access.

'Current restrictions for running a premises for public entertainment are stringent, as black-box theatres and band concerts are popular with audiences,' Lo said. 'Certain rules can be relaxed as long as we don't compromise fire safety.'

Under existing rules, operators of public entertainment venues must fulfil certain requirements to ensure fire safety. In some cases the premises should not be accommodated in mixed-use buildings, while the street outside should be a certain width and there should be multiple exit points from the building.

Lo said the regulations would be simplified for small-scale performances in converted blocks and the Buildings Department would announce the relaxed rules soon.

Lo said the Development Bureau was also considering assistance for artists to identify converted buildings with cheaper rents that they could make use of.

'We can only encourage owners of converted buildings to set aside some areas at lower rental for the artists. It is purely an appeal to their social responsibility,' Lo said.

In response to a recent suggestion that the government purchase and convert buildings for artists, Lo said it was beyond the bureau's remit and would require input from other departments.

The government will accept conversion applications from tomorrow. The Lands Department will set up a dedicated team of 13 staff - comprising surveyors, lawyers and land officers - to process the applications.

The office will also release guidelines for owners who want to incorporate green features into converted blocks, Lo said, adding guidance would be given to those seeking professional advice and assistance.

Full house

Under the new rules, the maximum audience size in converted premises would be: 500