West wing still has date with wrecking ball

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am


The government has infuriated conservationists by announcing that the west wing of its former headquarters will be bulldozed - and basing its decision on advice from a panel of experts who say the building should be saved.

The Development Bureau said last night that an expert panel under the Antiques Advisory Board concluded that the west wing was of lower architectural and historical merit than the older central and east wings at Government Hill, which will be retained for use by the Department of Justice. It will therefore make way for grade-A office buildings.

But a member of the panel said it had agreed that the whole Government Hill site should be given the highest conservation rating.

The panel has yet to submit its report, but a spokeswoman for the bureau said last night that its verdict on the merits of the west wing was in line with that of British conservation architects Purcell Miller Tritton, who studied the site in 2009 and concluded that the west wing should go.

'There is thus no intention to change the government's plan to preserve the higher-value main and east wings, while demolishing the lower-value west wing for redevelopment,' the spokeswoman said. The government hoped to announce details of 'the way forward' this month, she said.

But Professor Siu Kwok-kin, a member of the expert group, said yesterday the group gave the west wing a lower rating than the east and main wings but that the old headquarters should be treated as a single entity which would be rated as a grade-one historic building. It intends to submit a report to the Antiquities Advisory Board before a grade is given at a meeting expected on June 14.

Katty Law Ngar-ning, a spokeswoman for the Government Hill Concern Group, said the government's decision to selectively quote the experts' conclusions was a slap in the face to them.

'The government is going too far and totally disrespecting the experts' opinions, as well as public opinion,' she said. Her group will announce its next move tomorrow. It will include taking the issue to chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying.

Built in 1959, the west wing has become a cause celebre for conservationists since the government announced in 2009 that it would be sold to a developer to build a 32-storey tower. There was a partial climbdown in April, when the government said it would consider retaining ownership of the site, but insisted the demolition would still take place.

The conservation campaign has won the support of the building's architect, Michael Wright, and former chief secretary David Akers-Jones, among other local luminaries.

Development chief Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said last week that she would make a decision on the west wing and another heritage hot potato - the future of Ho Tung Gardens, a mansion on The Peak threatened with demolition - before the end of this month.

The advisory board's chairman, Bernard Chan, said last month that the building should stay in government hands and be converted into top-grade offices for private use.