Officials must play a more active role in enhancing the safety of green roofs

The collapse of a City University sports centre has exposed a sorry state of affairs over the existing mechanism covering such structures

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 May, 2016, 11:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2016, 10:16am

A week after the sudden collapse of a green rooftop on a City University sports centre, officials appear to be still grappling with the issue of how greening works across the city are being monitored. Only three days ago guidelines were issued to the industry amid mounting criticisms over the existing mechanism. It has to be asked whether the government has proactively promoted awareness when the greening policy was adopted over the last decade.

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It is just common sense that building works need to be carried out with regard to issues such as loading capacity, structural safety, drainage and leakage proofing. But whether green roofs are considered major works and require approval from the government is seemingly left to the judgment of the professionals involved. The guidelines issued by the Buildings Department on Friday merely remind engineers and contractors on the importance of such factors. Whether they could prevent a recurrence of the university accident depends on how professionals exercise their judgment.

The sorry state of affairs was fully exposed when the acting Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung failed to reassure the public that the situation is under control during an emergency question time in the Legislative Council on Wednesday. He deserved the broadside for not being able to tell how many green roofs there are in the city, and under what circumstances should such works be submitted for approval. The ambiguous response makes a mockery of a so-called mechanism to handle the projects.

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Equally disappointing are the remarks made by education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim. He lamented that his holiday had been marred by the accident. But he is fully aware of the scale of the impact, as the increasingly popular green roofs are widely found in universities as well as primary and secondary schools. The notice reminding schools to re-examine their greening works is a belated but necessary step to protect the safety of schoolchildren. If there is any comfort from the government’s response so far, it would be the outcome of the inspection of similar vegetated building structures found elsewhere. None of them have displayed any sign of danger, yet.

The policy to promote green features is well-intentioned. But as the accident showed, awareness and monitoring still leave a lot to be desired. Officials need to play a more active role in enhancing their safety.