19 May 2019
A file picture shows the Shatin-Central Link's To Kwa Wan MTR construction site. The image inset is of a purported crack found in a structure adjacent to the To Kwa Wan work site. Photos:  CNSA, Internet
A file picture shows the Shatin-Central Link's To Kwa Wan MTR construction site. The image inset is of a purported crack found in a structure adjacent to the To Kwa Wan work site. Photos: CNSA, Internet

No structural safety issue at buildings near MTR work site: govt

Inspections carried out on buildings near the To Kwa Wan rail station, an area that is believed to have suffered some ground subsidence due to MTR Corp’s construction activities, have determined that the properties do not bear structural safety risks, according to authorities.

Buildings Department (BD) inspectors checked 23 properties in the vicinity of the To Kwa Wan Station, which will serve MTR’s new Shatin-Central Link (SCL), and found “no obvious structural safety problem,” the government said in a statement late in the night Thursday.

The assurance came after a media report, citing an internal MTR document, said earlier that day that areas surrounding the upcoming To Kwa Wan Station were witnessing alarming signs of subsidence, and that 23 buildings had been affected.

Some residents were complaining of cracks developing in their apartments and in nearby road, the report said, suggesting that authorities were not taking remedial action even though subsidence was in excess of the acceptable level. 

According to Apple Daily, the subsidence issue emerged not too long after excavation works began at the station in 2016, with data from monitoring stations in the vicinity suggesting that the ground had sunk to an alarming degree.

MTR was accused of failing to call a halt to its construction works quickly despite being aware of the problem brought about by its digging activities.

Under the BD’s “Practice Notes for Authorized Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers”, an upper limit allowed for subsidence is 25mm in normal situations. The limit can also be set according to conditions of the construction site, and the contractor must get the BD’s approval before construction works can begin.

After construction begins, immediate suspension of work must be implemented should any surrounding monitoring stations detect a subsidence that exceeds the limit allowed until the problems are found and fixed, including design changes if necessary. No resumption of work is allowed before the BD gives the green light to it.

In a report Thursday, Apple Daily, citing findings from an MTR internal consultancy report, said a commercial building — BMW House — was the one suffering the most serious subsidence among 23 affected buildings in the To Kwa Wan station surrounding area.

Ground at the BMW House was said to have sunk as much 62.9 mm. Among the residential properties affected was Lucky Building, which saw subsidence of 52.4mm, according to the report.

Dismissing the structural safety fears, the government said late Thursday that inspectors have deemed that there is no cause for worry.   

If there are any issues, appropriate actions will be taken according to the Buildings Ordinance, including continuing inspections, it said, adding that related individual cases will also be referred to the Highways Department as well as MTR Corp for follow-up.

MTR, during a press conference held Thursday afternoon to discuss the firm’s interim financial results, found itself facing questions in relation to the construction issues related to the SCL project. 

At the event, Dr. Jacob Kam Chak-pui, MTR’s managing director of operations and mainland business, said the subsidence situation near the To Kwa Wan Station has stabilized.

Several hours later, the rail operator issued a statement, explaining the reason why it did not suspend construction soon after the suspected excessive subsidence.

The company said it had decided to continue the work as its project teams and contractors found after checks that affected buildings’ structures were safe, and because monitoring data showing the degree of tilting satisfied the pre-set requirement of the project.

Veteran civil engineer Ngai Hok-yan told a radio program that MTR should have suspended construction, as mandated by the Buildings Ordinance, immediately after excessive subsidence levels were detected, instead of making a decision based on its own judgment.

The rail giant may be having an attitude problem, as its engineers had ignored the BD’s request to reinforce nearby buildings, RTHK cited Ngai as saying.

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