A senior officer with the Urban Renewal Authority has blasted the government for "turning a blind eye" to dilapidated buildings and warned of a repeat of the 2010 Ma Tau Wai Road building collapse if nothing is done.
But a surveyors' group said the situation was not that dire, while critics suggested the official was trying to justify the authority's redevelopment ambitions.
Michael Ma Chiu-tsee, planning and design director of the authority, was speaking during a forum on urban redevelopment in Hong Kong and Taipei at the Kwang Hwa Information and Culture Centre - Taiwan's culture office in Hong Kong.
He said most construction materials used in the 1950s and '60s had a lifespan of about 50 to 60 years and a failure by owners to maintain buildings was also a factor in their deterioration.
Ma cited as examples the fatal collapse of a 53-year-old building in Ma Tau Wai Road, To Kwa Wan, four years ago; the poor condition of four buildings in nearby Kai Ming Street, which are subject to a demolition order, and the hazardous state of many subdivided flats in Mong Kok.
Referring to the Alhambra Building in Yau Ma Tei, Chungking Mansions and Mirador Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui, Ma said: "Are we waiting to see these buildings collapse, or reach the [dangerous] state of those in Kai Ming Street and Mong Kok?"
But land use activist Katty Law Ngar-ning, who was in the audience, was unconvinced. "The URA likes using the age of buildings to justify its renewal projects," Law said.
Andrew Kung Sui-lun, vice-chairman of the Institute of Surveyors, said the institute had inspected many old buildings at the request of owners after the 2010 tragedy and it had not found any buildings at risk of collapse.
The Buildings Department said it had taken measures to inspect old and dilapidated buildings, including the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme in place since 2012.