Build­ing clo­sure

Ten­ants of­fered ac­com­mo­da­tion in Kowloon

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By KAHON CHAN in Hong Kong kahon@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Res­i­dents of a ten­e­ment in To Kwa Wan give way to a court or­der, which wanted the premises va­cated.

Res­i­dents of a ten­e­ment build­ing gave way to a court or­der on Fri­day af­ter a week of re­sis­tance and bar­gain­ing with the Build­ing Depart­ment, which wanted the premises va­cated to re­in­force an un­safe bal­cony.

Ten­ants and own­ers at 51 Kai Ming Street briefly protested be­fore po­lice of­fi­cers, but backed off af­ter 4 pm on Fri­day and let Build­ing Depart­ment of­fi­cers en­ter and sur­vey their premises.

The court or­der to va­cate the six- story “tong lau” build­ing, built in 1957, was deemed nec­es­sary af­ter a govern­ment con­trac­tor found the build­ing’s “can­tilevered slab bal­cony” had be­come struc­turally un­safe.

No­ti­fied one week ago about the planned clo­sure, res­i­dents vowed to defy the or­der. Ten­ants staged protests and held meet­ings with the Build­ing Depart­ment through­out the week.

While Fri­day’s en­force­ment was peace­ful, the govern­ment made con­sid­er­able com­pro­mises in the process.

The depart­ment ini­tially planned to move res­i­dents out for five months to de­mol­ish the bal­conies. It agreed on Thurs­day just to re­in­force the risky struc­tures, carry out more sur­veys and re­duce the clo­sure pe­riod.

Five shops, in­clud­ing a laun­dry, were spared from long-term clo­sure, but must re­main closed for a few days to al­low con­crete sam­pling. Laun­dry owner, Ms Wong, said she was still wor­ried as her ven­ture can­not suf­fer rev­enue losses for too long.

Res­i­dents will be given time this week­end to pack and va­cate their bal­conies. Dis­trict Coun­cil­lor Pun Chi- man sug­gested they keep most of their fur­ni­ture in place.

Stranded oc­cu­pants were first of­fered in­terim hous­ing in Tuen Mun, which proved enor­mously un­pop­u­lar. Sin­gle ten­ants were then of­fered dor­mi­to­ries in two Kowloon lo­ca­tions. A fam­ily was later of­fered a room in a Mong Kok guest house.

The in­ci­dent can be dated back to the col­lapse of a sim­i­lar tong lau build­ing just a few blocks away, in Jan­uary 2010, which killed four peo­ple.

The tragedy prompted the govern­ment to launch Op­er­a­tion Build­ing Bright the same year. A con­trac­tor was as­signed to 51 Kai Ming Street to over­see re­pairs in 2011, but only pro­duced a re­port on the struc­ture ear­lier this month.

The con­trac­tor’s find­ing was dis­puted by a sur­veyor hired by own­ers at 51 Kai Ming Street, as shown by the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the own­ers be­fore the court on Fri­day morn­ing.

But Deputy Dis­trict Judge, Lawrence Yip Sue-pui, granted the or­der on the grounds that the build­ing or­di­nance leaves no room for the ju­di­ciary to chal­lenge the pro­fes­sional judg­ment of the build­ing depart­ment as long as it has met all pro­ce­dural re­quire­ments.

The only op­tion to ap­peal, Yip said, was to ap­ply for ju­di­cial re­view through the high court.

The own­ers had sought to re­de­velop the whole build­ing, but rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Ur­ban Re­newal Au­thor­ity re­fused to tell whether or not the premise and its neigh­bors fit the cri­te­ria for its “de­mand-led” scheme.

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