Hong Kong security minister warns of ‘hidden’ fire threats in city’s old buildings

Call for owners to boost fire safety facilities to meet modern standards

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 8:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 8:32am

Hong Kong’s security chief on Wednesday warned of “hidden threats” in the city’s old buildings with outdated fire safety facilities, calling on owners to enhance their readiness to meet modern standards.

Lai Tung-kwok’s comments came as a fire in London engulfed a 27-storey residential tower, with the mayor of the city Sadiq Khan saying “a lot of people” were still unaccounted for.

“Hong Kong is a densely populated city,” Lai said. “Old buildings that do not meet modern fire safety standards are indeed hidden threats to society, with significant consequences in case of fire. Indeed, fires in the past have resulted in significant causalities and injuries.”

According to the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance, all composite and domestic buildings with their building plans submitted for approval on or before March 1, 1987, should have their fire safety installations improved to meet modern standards.

Old buildings that do not meet modern fire safety standards are indeed hidden threats to society
Lai Tung-kwok, security minister

Since 2014/15, the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department have issued orders to owners in 2,100 such buildings across the city, requiring them to improve their fire safety facilities.

Lai said he understood that buildings without any owners’ corporations, residents’ organisations or property management companies – also known as “three-nil buildings” – would have difficulties complying with the order.

He suggested owners of these buildings seek help from the government, such as the Home Affairs Department, which he said has engaged property management companies to help form owners’ corporations.

He added there had been official financial support for enhancement works, including an assistance scheme under the Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority, providing subsidies for common area repair works. The subsidy could amount to as much as HK$1.2 million per building or HK$3,000 per flat.

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Lai said the orders normally required owners to finish works within one year, but the government had been extending the deadline another year or more to give owners ample time.

Since 2014/15, the two departments have prosecuted 572 cases of non-compliance, resulting in 477 convictions.