Lawmakers to discuss falling windows

Lawmakers say new laws are needed to protect homeowners and the public from the dangers of substandard glass in high-rise buildings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 4:11am

Lawmakers alarmed by cases of falling and breaking windows at high-rise residential estates have urged the government to tighten its supervision on the use of glass panes and to introduce laws that would hold manufacturers liable.

Major political parties said they would take up the matter in Legco after the South China Morning Post reported yesterday that "glass cancer" had caused at least 150 cases of spontaneous window breakages on several estates.

"The problem has gone beyond a private matter. It is a citywide problem and will put the public at risk. The government should follow it up," Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said.

The failures - caused by impurities dubbed cancer because of the difficulty in getting rid of them completely - have raised questions about the Buildings Department's standards for tempered architectural glass, which are well below some of those set in Europe.

Estates facing serious problems include The Arch in West Kowloon and Larvotto in Ap Lei Chau, which had 59 and 34 breakages since 2008 and 2011 respectively.

"It is not just one or two pieces of glass, but a whole batch of glass windows, so something must be seriously wrong," Civic Party legislator Claudia Mo Man-ching said. "It is unacceptable for the standards to be lower than those in Europe. At least we should be on a par."

The Arch's developer, Sun Hung Kai Properties, pledged on Tuesday to replace all tempered glass for residents at no cost and bought insurance coverage of HK$30 million for the estate.

A spokeswoman for Sino Land said yesterday that it would offer replacement on a case-by-case basis for its affected estates but refused to name these.

Other developers, including Hang Lung and Cheung Kong, have remained silent on the issue despite similar breakages being reported at their estates, including The Harbourside and The Legend in Happy Valley.

To urged the Buildings Department to require developers whose estates use glass panes tested according to its pre-2009 standards to report any breakages.

The pre-2009 standards required testing for impurities in a heat bath for an hour, now two hours. Some parts of Europe require 24 hours.

In the case of The Arch, the developer has said it used more stringent testing than that required in 2003 when the estate was being built. But it could not trace the bad batch as Japanese contractor YKK AP which supplied the glass had not kept records.

A resident of the estate said he saw a piece of glass similar in size to a smartphone on the ground. Polytechnic University mechanical engineer Lo Kok-keung said such a fragment could hit a person with a force of 30 kilograms if it fell from the 60th floor.

Barrister-lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah of the Civic Party said the city needed a new law empowering flat buyers to sue manufacturers whose materials were defective. At present, owners have to pay damages and are liable for injuries even if they have done nothing wrong.

Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen, deputy chairman of Legco's development panel, said the department should investigate the incidents and review the standards.

Gary Chan Hak-kan from the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Civic Party's Mo said they would raise the matter in Legco.

The Buildings Department said it was investigating The Arch case but declined to comment on lawmakers' proposals.