The government must ensure an effective building inspection regime

The recent collapse of part of a building in Hung Hom shows the critical need for a proper mechanism to boost public safety

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 2:06am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 2:06am

The collapse into the street of the enclosed balcony of a subdivided flat in a 60-year-old tenement building in Hung Hom, miraculously without casualties, recalls two similar incidents in To Kwa Wan: one in 2013 and another in 2010 when a 55-year-old building collapsed, killing four residents and leaving dozens homeless. The city has an increasingly dangerous maintenance and subdivision problem with buildings in old areas, where owners often cannot afford the upkeep or have given up any hope of redevelopment. This is compounded by obstacles to inspection and enforcement.

Another balcony to be demolished after collapse at old Hong Kong tenement block

The 2010 tragedy led the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS) that came into force in 2012, despite owners’ complaints about the cost and inconvenience. Under the MBIS, owners of buildings aged 30 years or above are required to carry out inspections once every 10 years. A 10-yearly inspection for an old building that can become dangerous well within that time span, especially if it is subdivided, is not onerous. But the situation on the ground does not reflect this.

The sheer number of ageing buildings, with 6,000 now at least 50 years old, in a densely developed city makes inspection and enforcement of prescribed repair works a daunting task, even with full cooperation from all concerned. As a result, according to official figures, there have been no repairs to 43 per cent of them.

Difficulties encountered in executing the MBIS processes for old private buildings include coordinating with individual flat owners for building inspections and the necessary repair and maintenance works; differences among individual owners, owners’ corporations or property management companies, and a lack of initiative on the part of owners.

With old buildings now growing rapidly in number, the government must press on with efforts to secure owners’ cooperation in establishing an effective inspection and enforcement regime. A maintenance subsidy offered by the Housing Society and Urban Renewal Authority for eligible owners is the right approach. Ultimately, proper inspections are critical to public safety because they can alert authorities to potentially fatal collapses.