From a technical point of view, the Buildings Department's proposal for a mandatory building safety inspection scheme is flawless. Under the plan, owners of all privately-owned buildings more than 20 years old must hire professionals to conduct a safety inspection and undertake necessary repairs. Considering that scores of people have been killed or injured when poorly maintained or illegally constructed canopies and other structures have collapsed, there is certainly a need for the scheme. Indeed, over the past 10 years the number of complaints about dangers from buildings has increased by 20 per cent per annum. In the year to June 30, there were 249 complaints about falling objects from external walls of buildings and 2,899 complaints about dangers from buildings themselves. But will the scheme really work? That depends on a number of factors. Virtually everyone in Hong Kong lives in a multi-storey building or has experience of life in a high-rise. They can easily explain how difficult it is to implement the Buildings Department's proposal. For one thing, in a building which has, say, 100 or more owners - which is very common - who is going to take the lead in taking up the tedious and thankless task of organising the owners, contacting professional surveyors and dealing with the authorities? The department's answer is that Home Affairs Department officials are available to help owners organise owners' corporations under the Building Management Ordinance. But this is easier said than done. There are about 50,000 buildings in major built-up areas. After many years of hard work by Home Affairs Department staff, only about 4,850 owners' corporations, covering about 8,000 buildings, have been formed. Many of these corporations are in newer housing estates. A large number of old buildings afflicted by problems of multiple ownership and absentee landlords still only have a skeleton, non-statutory set-up to manage their affairs. An inspection order issued by the Buildings Department might provide the impetus for owners of old buildings to take action. But even so, individual owners' ability to fork out a hefty sum to pay for repairs is also a problem. The consultation paper says the costs of inspection to individual households for a typical 25-storey building with 200 units will be about $11,000 over a seven-year period. But what is the typical state of dereliction for a typical building? The paper does not say. What it says is that repair costs will depend on the nature and scope of works. The fact is such costs could be many times more than the costs of inspection for many old buildings. For too long, the solution of many flat owners to poor building management has been to sell out and move to newer buildings - an option which is open only to those who have the means and who are smart enough to have sold before their flats became too old to find a buyer. As a result, most current owners of old buildings are the less well-heeled who are likely to have difficulty paying for inspections and repairs. The Government has talked of establishing a building rehabilitation fund to provide loans for repairs. No details are available. But it had better have the loan scheme in place before implementing the building safety inspection scheme. It should also be prepared for a considerable number of defaults by owners who are old and have lost the ability to work to pay off the loans. In fact, so many old buildings have fallen into disrepair for so long and are now inhabited by the poor and the old that redevelopment seems a more viable option. The Land Development Corporation (LDC), to be upgraded to become the Urban Renewal Authority, should be given more powers and resources to ensure a faster pace of urban redevelopment. There is also a need to speed up reform of the law to facilitate redevelopment by private developers. The scale of the urban renewal problem is so big that it is unrealistic to expect that the LDC can solve it alone. All new buildings will grow old. In Hong Kong, poor building management means they grow old faster. Although most residential buildings completed in recent years have owners' corporations and are managed by professional building managers, there is still scope for improvement. The Building Management Ordinance provides that owners' corporations 'may' establish and maintain a contingency fund to provide for any expenditure of an unexpected nature. In practice, many corporations see the fund as a way of providing finance for major repairs. But since the contingency fund is not mandatory and its uses are not specified, it is sometimes not set up. At other times the money is spent on other purposes. Why not legislate for the establishment of a maintenance fund, possibly by requiring developers to make an initial lump sum deposit and owners to make regular contributions? This would ensure owners would not be suddenly slapped with a costly bill for major repairs and their properties would be well maintained over time. For sure, building owners have the responsibility of maintaining their properties so that they are safe and do not pose a danger to the public. In practice, however, Hong Kong's unique situation means they cannot be expected to readily take up their responsibility. This is because a typical residential building or residential estate is a community unto itself, housing hundreds or even thousands of households. Building management, which impinges on building safety, becomes a social problem. As such, a technical solution will not suffice.