Tang's basement no afterthought, experts say
Cheung Chi-fai and Olga Wong
A house jointly owned by Henry Tang Ying-yen until two years ago and suspected to be concealing a large illegal basement was built to make additional excavation possible, Buildings Department records show. It had foundation piles bored deep into the ground.
A veteran architect said the architect who worked on the Kowloon property after Tang and his wife bought it would likely have known of any basement structure. That's because it would have been difficult to dig an underground area larger than the footprint of the house above at 7 York Road after the house was built.
The architect for the house was Henry Ho Chung-yi.
'The basement had probably been planned ahead, as it would hardly be easy to build one afterwards,' said architect Vincent Ng Wing-shun, who has worked on government redevelopment projects.
The house, now owned solely by Tang's wife, covers 2,217 square feet, according to the building plan of the house submitted by Ho and approved by the Buildings Department. The illegal basement is reportedly as large as 2,400 square feet.
Another architect, who refused to be named, described the extended underground piling as a 'planned and calculated design'.
On Tuesday Ho denied there were any illegal structures when he passed the completed house to Tang in 2006 or 2007. He could not be reached for a response yesterday.
The building plan showed piles in the foundation were bored up to five metres into the ground. This compares with about two metres of piling under the adjacent house at 5A York Road, where Tang now lives.
Judging from the plan, Ng said the foundation was deep enough to create a space of at least a storey high.
He would not rule out the possibility that an underground space had been formed during construction of the house.
Tang has admitted there is an underground storage area at the house and says he will rectify this. But an industry insider warned the house would need to be demolished if the foundation was different from that approved by the department.
'The building regulations specify that no retrospective approval is allowed,' the insider said. 'An unapproved foundation means the house is not proven to be safe, so the owner must restore the site to its original state.'
Alternatively, Ng said, the owner might simply need to fill up the basement to prevent any further use.
With Tang tight-lipped on the matter, more details about the possible illegal works emerged. Two companies revealed they had supplied construction materials or carried out works at No 7 after it was said to have been completed.
Eastern Gotech, a supplier of plaster and mortar, told the Post that in 2008 it provided supplies to the house's contractor, which it refused to name. One type of plaster the firm specialises in is waterproofing.
Another company, Spring Warm Engineering, said it was hired by main contractor Hien Lee Construction to fit marble panels to the house around 2008. Hien Lee also commissioned another company, Aquascape, to install a filter and lighting system for the swimming pool.
Bryan Lam Wai-ping, of Aquascape, recalled that a building plan he had seen showed there was only sand below the pool. He declined to show the plan without Hien Lee's consent.