Illegal structures pose almost impossible task

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong's chaotic urban sprawl, with its high density of development and dizzying array of neon billboards has always been characteristic of life in the city. For visitors, these features may seem part of Hong Kong's charm, but residents often have to accept them grudgingly. Building structures and neon signs, when they are situated close to residential areas, can intrude into one's privacy. Often, the irrationality of certain structures and signs makes one ask how it can be that such structures can be built and positioned in places that seem so obviously inappropriate.

Now we know the answer - they were probably illegal in the first place. In announcing a crackdown, the government revealed last week there are an estimated 400,000 unlawful structures and 190,000 unauthorised signboards around Hong Kong. For a city which prides itself on the rule of law, residents were entitled to assume that such structures must have passed inspection before they were allowed to be built. So imagine the frustration of those who have had to endure such structures to now learn they may have been illegal. In the past, the government appears to have adhered to a policy of turning a blind eye to structures which posed 'no immediate danger'. Except, even if such structures posed 'no immediate danger' they obviously pose danger in the long-term, otherwise they would have passed the relevant regulations in the first place. The government learnt this the hard way following the To Kwa Wan tragedy when four people were killed by a collapsing building. The administration likes to depict the problem of unsafe structures as being due to 'old buildings' of 50 years or older. But these buildings are only 'old' because they have been poorly maintained and because they have been subject to the strains of illegal structures.

Now, the government says it will inspect all suspicious structures and force the removal of illegal ones in what appears to be an almost impossible task practically and legally. The government only has itself to blame. One can only hope that it has learnt its lesson and now has greater foresight for the good of the public.