The government is taking steps to reduce widespread aggravation and distress from renovation noise, with new laws proposed in LegCo today to quell the racket from some 200,000 flats a year undergoing major renovations.
In a presentation, officials said over a million people a year are “distressed” by apartment renovations, while only about 8% actually made formal complaints. Proposed amendments to the Noise Control Ordinance would see construction firms required to give notice of works, limit works to five consecutive days in the first two months of renovations and restrict equipment to smaller jackhammers and crushers. The new laws would also limit percussive renovation to between 9am and 6pm: the only protection for residents under existing law is that percussive drilling must not take place between 7pm and 7am.
Contractors would also need to apply for a notification, costing $500, for using percussive machines. Diane Wong, Under Secretary for Environment and Ecology said the $500 fee was to recover the costs of the scheme and would not yield a profit to the government.
But officials quibbled amongst themselves on how the new proposals might be enforced. Two lawmakers – Frankie Yick Chi-ming and Michael Tien Puk-sun – raised their personal challenges of reporting illegal renovation noise outside prescribed hours, with police or authorities often arriving on the scene well after the noise had stopped.
Director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) Samuel Chui said in those cases there would still be evidence of noise-making activity such as concrete residue. “If there is refuse dumped nearby we could prosecute,” he said.
When pressed on the issue, Diane Wong said better evidence would be needed. “We cannot establish a case just because concrete rubble or dust is there,” she said.
But noise prosecutions in apartment renovation cases are rare: in January, EPD made only three prosecutions for construction work breaching noise permits, for a total of $23,500 fines and for incidents happening well over six months ago.
Officials also hedged around questions of the Pilot Scheme on Quiet Renovation rolled out by EPD two years ago, refusing to answer questions on how many contractors had rented “quiet” equipment or how complaints had changed under the scheme.
“We don’t have any numbers on how the Pilot Scheme for Quiet Renovation had been accepted,” said Lee Chee-kwan, Principal Environment Protection Officer for EPD.
Wong said 900 contractors had been briefed on the scheme and had reportedly found the proposals acceptable.
Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen asked why contractors would be allowed five days’ consecutive noise, whereas in Singapore the maximum is three days.
EPD’s Samuel Chui said the government “did not want the renovation trade to be unduly affected while we are starting the scheme,” but promised there would be a review of the limits in the future.
All lawmakers present were in favour of the proposals, with the exception of Shiu Ka-fai, who is not a member of the Environment Panel but gate-crashed the meeting to speak.
Shiu, who is also a director of building supplies company Shun Yee, said he was concerned the scheme would push up renovation costs for apartment owners. He also asked the Environment and Ecology Bureau for a private audience with a furniture and contractor association he chairs to discuss the proposals further.