Building Control (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Sylvia Lim

(Delivered in Parliament on 6 March 2020)

I appreciate the rationale of this Bill to enhance public safety and accessibility. As an urban and densely built-up society, public safety of building structures and fixed installations are critical. That said, these measures will entail costs, which will be a concern to those responsible including Town Councils. MP Faisal Manap, who chairs the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, will elaborate further in his speech.

I wish to seek clarifications on two particular aspects of the Bill.

Maintenance of Exterior Features

The first clarification is on the maintenance of exterior features of buildings. This Bill simplifies the definition of “exterior feature” to mean any permanent feature of a building that is installed on, forms part of or projects outwards from the roof or exterior of the building, and such other features that may be prescribed in the regulations. This is an improvement from the existing definition which contains a laundry list of features.

I note that the Bill changes the definition of the person responsible to maintain these features. Under the existing Act, it is stated that for HDB blocks, the person responsible to maintain exterior features is either the HDB or the Town Council, depending on who the Minister designates for that feature. By this Bill, Clause 2(q) will amend the law to remove HDB as a person responsible for the exterior feature, and place the responsibility on the Town Council or a contractor engaged by the Town Council who has charge and control of the management and maintenance of common property.

I have two questions relating to this. First, what is the rationale for removing HDB from the definition of a person responsible for the exterior feature? Does this amendment change the responsibility of HDB towards problematic features? An exterior feature could have been unsafe from the point of construction; alternatively, it could become unsafe over time due to wear and tear or lack of maintenance, in which case Town Councils will have to bear some responsibility. During the MND COS, I note that Minister had clarified that if an HDB block had a falling façade that could be attributed to a construction fault, HDB should pay the cost of rectification. This is eminently reasonable. In fact, the proposed Section 25H makes clear that if a person responsible for an exterior feature can show that the defect was caused by materials or work supplied, the person responsible has a defence to a charge of failing to maintain the feature. What is the implication of removing HDB from the definition of “person responsible” for maintaining an exterior feature?

The second question relates to the inclusion of the Town Council’s contractor as a “person responsible”, if that contractor has charge and control of the management and maintenance of the common property. Does this phrase mean a TC’s Managing Agent, where a TC has outsourced its operations to an MA? The same section makes it clear that for private property such as condominiums, managing agents are persons responsible together with the owners. Could Ministry explain why for HDB estates, the phrase “managing agent” is not used?

Clarity on who is responsible is necessary, as persons responsible have onerous duties under the Bill. These duties include the need to comply with BCA’s Notices to Maintain under the new Section 25E, at their cost. They also have duties to report safety incidents under the new Section 25B, and failure to perform these duties carries heavy penalties.

Building Inspections and Remedial Works

My second clarification relates to Clause 20 on building inspections and remedial works. Clause 20 provides for situations when the Commissioner of Building Control requires an owner to inspect and take remedial actions in respect of a potentially dangerous building, exterior feature or fixed installation, or a building product that carries a safety risk. The Bill will remove the need for such inspections and works to be overseen by qualified persons, and simply require them to be done by appropriate persons. This will expand the class of persons who do such work beyond architects and professional engineers. What is the thinking behind apparently relaxing the requirement, as we are dealing here with potentially dangerous structures and safety concerns? Will the Ministry provide guidance as to the alternative qualifications that such an appropriate person should have?