Hong Kong's famous signboards should be safe as well as beautiful

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 1:21am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 6:42am

Hong Kong's cityscape is world famous. The array of colourful signboards protruding from high-rise buildings is as much a visual treat as a testimony to our vibrancy. But the proliferation of such structures in an urban jungle, many of which have been abandoned and left decaying, can also be a threat to public safety.

The problem was highlighted in an inspection initiated by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Using the criteria adopted by the Buildings Department, the government-friendly party identified 117 structures in eight districts that it says will endanger road safety. Sham Shui Po was described as the worst, with 26 dangerous signboards found in seven streets. Some of them became abandoned after the shops had closed down.

That the news came from a political party instead of the government says a lot about the lack of transparency and accountability. Officials say there are some 120,000 signboards across the city, most of which are unauthorised. But the lack of manpower means enforcement priority has to be given to those which pose immediate danger to public safety. A validation scheme was rolled out two years ago to encourage better maintenance by signboard owners. But with only 71 of the 228 applications approved so far, the initiative does not seem to serve the purpose.

The department said it had removed some 2,000-odd unsafe or unauthorised structures last year. The number pales into insignificance compared with the tens of thousands of signboards hanging around the city's buildings, many of which are ageing and dilapidated. It also sits oddly with the claims that most of the signboards do not pose immediate danger.

We trust the government does not need to be told where to look for dangerous signboards. The party's inspection also serves as a reminder for owners to take good care of their signboards. With better maintenance and control, signboards can add to the city's characters without compromising safety.