Government to demolish 'heritage' west wing
The government will press ahead with demolition of the west wing of its former headquarters in Central despite its own advisers' suggestion the block be graded a heritage property.
The 1959 building will make way for a 26-floor office building and a 7,600 square metre leisure area accessible to the public. The government will retain ownership of the whole headquarters site and the new tower.
The central and east wings of the former headquarters, which are regarded as having higher heritage value, will be kept for use by the Department of Justice.
The announcement, which Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called the 'final resolution' of the long-running issue, came hours before the Antiquities Advisory Board suggested a grade two heritage rating - second on a three-grade scale - be applied to the west wing, which some members accused the government of undervaluing. It followed a heritage alert issued by an international body that advises the United Nations on heritage sites.
Lam said the redevelopment would use the build-operate-transfer model, in which the government would keep ownership of the new building while a private developer would build it and operate it for a specified period before returning it.
The public leisure site will be handed back immediately after construction; the site's zoning - it will be either government, institution or community - will be unchanged. The model was used in the construction of cross-harbour tunnels but has rarely been used in buildings. Lam said the government would test the market's interest in the project before calling for tenders next year.
'I'm not 100 per cent positive about the market's interest in the project because it involves an exceptional approach,' she said. 'But of the developers I had talked to, none said they were entirely uninterested.'
Meanwhile, the government will write to the International Scientific Committee on Twentieth Century Heritage in response to the alert - raised on its website on Wednesday - which Lam said was unfair.
The committee said it raised the alert to draw global attention to the fate of the west wing, which it said was an indispensible part of the area known as Government Hill. But Lam criticised the Government Hill Concern Group for providing 'superficial and selective material' to the body.
'I am quite confident that what we are doing is the mainstream view. It's only a very tiny portion of people who are particularly vocal and maybe passionate about heritage preservation who insisted that the west wing should be preserved intact.'
At the advisory board's meeting yesterday, many were unhappy about the government's decision.
Architect Tony Lam Chung-wai said: 'Whatever we grade, it's going to be demolished. So why should we discuss it now?' Professor Ho Pui-yin, a historian, said the whole government headquarters was part of Hongkongers' identity and collective memory, and should be preserved.
The board endorsed a five-member expert panel's proposal that the whole site and the central wing be rated grade one. They said the east wing - for which the panel suggested grade two - should also be grade one.