Last chance to have your say on fire-safety policy in New Territories

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 June, 2014, 5:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 June, 2014, 7:04am

Fire-safety campaigners are urging people to take their final chance to stand up for safety in the New Territories before a watchdog's consultation ends.

The Office of the Ombudsman launched an investigation a month ago after complaints about access for emergency vehicles being blocked and fire safety equipment being removed. Owners of village houses - 700 sq ft homes male indigenous villagers in the New Territories are entitled to build - have been accused of blocking access or removing safety gear once inspections are complete.

Such homes are exempt from rules on access for emergency vehicles that are applied in urban areas, and while the Lands Department can require homeowners to provide access, enforcement is difficult because the buildings are on private land.

But the watchdog's one-month consultation on the matter, which ends tomorrow, has received just 12 submissions.

Janice Cheng Hang-fan, a retired former civil servant, is campaigning to preserve emergency access to her village of Fu Hing.

"This is lifesaving. This measure is about protecting everyone," she said. "All these indigenous villagers and developers are all greedy. You can't beat the greedy mind, and that's why you need the government, and you need the Lands Department to carry out their duties to protect emergency roads."

For Briton Simon Watkiss, the investigation is too late.

He lost his sons Elliot, eight, and Frankie, seven, when a fire broke out at their Yuen Long home in October 2012. While the road outside their house was designated for emergency access and was supposed to be six metres wide to allow fire engines and ambulances in, the walls of two houses were just 3.1 metres apart.

Firefighters and paramedics had to park 100 metres away and run back and forth to treat the casualties. The two boys died of smoke inhalation. Watkiss said last month that the investigation "gives me hope".

Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing is expected to report on the matter in about a year.