The Chief Executive stated in the 2018 Policy Address that the Buildings Department (BD) was spearheading the development of an Electronic Submission Hub (ESH) (See https://esh.bd.gov.hk/). ESH will allow not only the industry to submit building plans and applications electronically, but also relevant authorities to process different kinds of building plans and applications via the hub. This will enable the adoption of new technologies in processing development applications, and significantly streamline the approval process.
BD is committed to developing an ESH for centralised processing of electronic building plans and documents, as well as other applications under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) (BO) as an alternative to the present paper-based system.
Review of the current way of processing plans and submissions
Any person who intends to carry out building works under the BO is required to appoint registered building professionals (RBP)—namely, authorized persons, registered structural engineers and registered geotechnical engineers registered under the BO—to prepare and submit plans for the approval of the Building Authority (BA). BD is the central clearing house to process all building plan submissions from the private sector through the Centralised Processing System (CPS)*. Before ESH launched, RBP had to produce multiple hard copies of building plans and supporting documents to BD. Upon receipt of these hard copies, if necessary, BD would disseminate them to relevant departments and organisations (CPS participants) for processing. There are up to 34 CPS participants. The number of hard copies required depends on the types of submissions and the number of referrals to CPS participants.
BD commissioned a feasibility study in 2013 on an electronic submission system for plans and documents under the BO. The study recommended the development of an Electronic Forms Submission System (EFSS), based on the maturity of market products, considerable resources and efforts required, and the readiness of industry. It will pave the way for the implementation of a full-scale electronic submission system in the future. As a result of the recommendation, BD launched EFSS in 2016, which enabled practitioners to download, fill out, sign and submit forms electronically. Although EFSS was available, practitioners still had to submit hard copies of building plans and large-sized documents to BD.
Later in 2017, BD commissioned a review of the feasibility of a full-scale electronic submission system for processing electronic plans and documents. Electronic submission reduces paper use and storage space, and saves administrative effort. The review also identified the tremendous benefits that BD gained from accepting building plans in Building Information Modelling (BIM) format through an electronic submission system.
List of departments and organisations under the Centralised Processing System (CPS)
*BD operates a CPS for building plans submitted under the BO to ensure that all relevant government departments and organisations are consulted and that their comments on private development proposals are collated by BD within statutory time limits allowed for processing building plans.
In summary, the review recommended the development of a full-scale electronic submission system to improve the operational efficiency of BD and CPS participants in processing building plans and submissions, and to promote wider and further adoption of BIM. This is one of the initiatives in the Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong published in December 2017. Having accepted the recommendation, BD is determined to develop ESH.
Stakeholders’ engagement is essential in the development process of ESH as different stakeholders have different needs and preferences. In this respect, BD established different channels for collecting views and comments. Since October 2020, we have convened meetings, briefing sessions, and workshops with stakeholders in the building industry representatives of relevant government departments and organisations as well as BD’s staff. BD has also set up two task forces with regular meetings for closer liaison and more direct and interactive communication with stakeholders in ESH development. One of the task forces is the “Task Force on the CPS of ESH”, and it is composed of representatives of participating government departments and organisations under the CPS. The second group is called the “Task Force on Industry Adoption of ESH”. Members are representatives of different professional bodies including the HKIE, building contractors associations, and developers’ association.
Meeting of Task Force on Industry Adoption of ESH
Testing of ESH by members of Task Force on Industry Adoption of ESH
Staged implementation plan
It was planned for the system to be launched in three stages to enable as many stakeholders as possible to benefit from it sooner.
Stage 1, which was launched on 30 June 2022, accepts submissions for structural works above ground not requiring cross-department referral. With the implementation of Stage 2 of ESH on 31 March 2023, the system has extended to include plan submissions of various types of building works under the BO including demolition, drainage, excavation and lateral support, ground investigation, foundation, hoarding, covered walkway and gantry, site formation and all structural works, which require referrals to works departments and some other government departmens and organisation under the CPS. Other types of plan submissions including General Building Plan and Alteration and Addition Works are to be included in Stage 3, which is scheduled to be launched by the second quarter of 2025.
The implementation time frame of ESH
Key features of ESH
ESH includes two main parts – the Electronic Submission System (ESS) and the Electronic Processing System (EPS). ESS provides functions for RBP to submit various types of plans and applications while EPS serves BD processing officers and other relevant authorities in handling plans and applications via a single hub. Some of ESH’s key features are highlighted in what follows:
Overview of ESH
(a) 24/7 Operation
As ESH operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week all year round on the web, except for scheduled maintenance and unexpected downtime, applicants will not have time and area restrictions assessing the system. They can submit applications anywhere and anytime. Similarly, the process of submissions will not be affected even if special work arrangements are taken under a pandemic situation in the future. Moreover, the statutory period of an application or submission will commence from the day of receipt if it is a holiday or outside office hours;
(b) One-stop e-Counter
ESS users include owners, RBP and their assistants or project team members, and registered contractors. To start using ESH, users simply activate their user accounts and login to the system using a digital certificate or an iAM Smart mobile app, for user authentication. RBP and the registered contractors will also use the digital certificate to sign digitally the forms, plans and documents. This is done with the digital signing tool provided by the system. ESH is a one-stop e-counter for submission of building plans and documents, as well as other applications under the BO electronically;
Users may create personalised accounts on ESH for progress tracking of various types of submissions. This includes building plans, consents, permits, licence applications, certificates, and forms under the BO. Users may also receive reminders, notifications and announcements through registered email accounts, and access to records of approved submissions or documents;
(d) Formation of project team
ESH provides a common collaborative environment (CCE) for the formation of project team and for the collaboration of project team members in an e-workspace to prepare submissions. RBP can invite the owner, other RBP and registered contractors to form a project team. It can grant different levels of access rights to them as needed. For example, an owner may nominate his or her representative via Form BA4 submitted to ESH. Likewise, his or her representative can also join the project as well. The RBP can also assign their assistants to become collaborators in the system. In addition, they can be members of the project team and assist with project submission issues. When the RBP, registered contractors or owners share project information with selected project members, their corresponding assistants will also be granted the same rights to access the shared information;
Formation of project team in ESH
(e) Preparation of a plan application or submission in CCE
In this CCE, a cloud-based e-workspace will be allocated to each RBP. After a project team is created, the project team members located in different offices can prepare a submission collaboratively in this e-workspace. The e-workspace enables team members to store draft submissions and share project information among themselves. As part of submitting an application, RBP needs to provide project information, complete forms, upload submission files, compile a plan index, sign the documents digitally, and finally review and confirm the application. To make the system more user-friendly, a feature has been built in to allow batch signing of plans by registered building professionals for submission. In other words, just a click is needed to sign all the plans. Once the application or submission is successfully submitted to BD, the documents and plans in the e-workspace will be cleared and the storage space will be released for further use;
(f) Electronic plan index
The system has an e-Document Management System (eDMS) for document handling, indexing and version control of submitted documents and plans. For example, when submitting plans to ESH, the system will automatically extract information from the uploaded drawings and generate an electronic plan index. The index consists of details such as file names, drawing titles, drawing numbers and revisions. ESH is integrated with eDMS to handle large volumes of submission data for efficient, reliable and secure retrieval, searching and archiving;
Electronic plan index in ESH
ESH will serve as a portal for referral of submissions to relevant CPS participants and for them to provide comments to BD and users;
Plan processing could be carried out concurrently by BD officers, different CPS participants, with their comments shared in the portal. Computer-aided plan checking modules would be developed for compliance checks of submissions against building regulations in the future;
(i) Online discussion forum
During submission processing, BD officers and CPS participants can communicate with building professionals via the ESH platform. This online platform allows the exchange of real-time comments and responses online with mark-ups on plans through a plan viewer. Functions are also built into the system to allow RBP to supplement information, supersede, withdraw, resubmit the plans, and documents as the case may be; and
(j) Replies and notifications
ESH users can receive replies and notifications via the system. For example, users can receive notification of approval and the approved plans with approval stamps once the approval letter is endorsed. Similarly, owners can be notified when an AP/RSE submission is accepted by the system. Also, RBP can obtain notification through the system and emails when a comment is made on their submission or a request for discussion is raised by plan processing officers. Furthermore, the system allows applicants to track the status of their applications.
Further details and introduction videos of ESH on related topics including legislative amendments, relevant Practice Notes for Authorized Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers, Practice Notes for Registered Contractors, user guides and manuals, standard requirements for electronic submission of documents, digital signature of documents, and so forth, can be found at BD website: https://www.bd.gov.hk
The way forward
ESH provides a digital platform facilitating building professionals to submit plans, documents, and applications electronically at anytime from anywhere. BD and all CPS participants could process these submissions electronically. ESH will save time and manpower in submitting and resubmitting hard copies of plans or submissions. In addition, it will reduce travel costs and printing costs. Through the automatic referral system, ESH will also improve efficiency in distributing plans and documents from BD to other CPS participants. Through the built-in online application progress tracking and alert system, users could keep track of their submission progress.
With the recent implementation of Stage 2 of ESH on 31 March 2023, the system has been extended to accept and process plan submissions for all engineering works. These include excavation and lateral support, ground investigation, foundation, and all structural works. Members of the HKIE are strongly recommended to adopt electronic submission and use ESH for their plan submissions under the BO. We believe ESH users could fully enjoy the benefits of working with a smart, efficient, collaborative, and sustainable system. With technological advancements, BD will continue to enhance the ESH and provide better services for the building industry and the public.
- Buildings Department (2019). FCR(2018-19)78: Item for Finance Committee - Capital Works Reserve Fund Head 710 - Computerisation New Subhead “Electronic Submission Hub”. 1 February. Available at: https://www.legco.gov.hk/yr19-20/english/fc/fc/papers/fc_f1c. htm#yr1819. [Accessed on 28 April 2023].
- Buildings Department (2023). Electronic Submission Hub (ESH). Available at: https://www.bd.gov.hk/en/resources/online-tools/ electronic-submission-hub/index.html. [Accessed on 28 April 2023].