Heritage adviser branded 'unfit' in west wing row

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2012, 12:00am


A senior counsel from a leading conservation group has weighed into the row over a vote last week that might have saved the west wing of the government's former headquarters from demolition.

Gladys Li, of the Government Hill Concern Group, attacked as 'farcical' Thursday's meeting of the Antiquities Advisory Board to vote on the heritage value of Government Hill in Central, singling out chairman Bernard Chan for criticism.

Meanwhile, Chan (pictured) said he would decide today whether or not to resign after being accused of colluding with officials when he cast a deciding vote to list the 52-year-old west wing as a grade II building.

The vote followed a deadlock by board members, with eight voting for grade I, eight for grade II and four for grade III. A grade II building is not generally safe from demolition; while a grade I listing may be protected if it is then declared a monument.

The board will make a final decision in a month's time following a public consultation, but Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has insisted redevelopment of the site was going ahead.

In a letter to the South China Morning Post, Li wrote: 'If the government has any policy and process for preserving the precious and fast disappearing heritage of Hong Kong, then it has been totally undermined by the determination of Mrs Carrie Lam to have the west wing demolished and by the ineptitude of the chairman of the AAB who has demonstrated ... his unfitness to continue in that position.'

Li said she was present at the meeting and noted that some members had not read all the papers tabled for discussion. She described the manner in which the board considered the grading as 'farcical', adding that Chan's vote, cast after the voting was concluded, was arguably invalid.

The concern group has not ruled out a legal challenge to save the building if the government moves forward with the demolition.

The chairman must be treated as an ordinary member and had he wanted to vote for grade II, he should have done so when the voting on grade II was taken, she said. Chan said in an e-mail yesterday he was under no pressure from Lam.

'My plan is to step down, but I've so far already received e-mails from 18 [board] members urging me not to do so,' he said. 'They fear it would send a wrong message to the public that our procedure is wrong and that a mistake is made.

'All of them asked me to stay on to carry on with all the unfinished matters at AAB. I feel touched by their support, but I'm still [struggling] with the decision.'

It was not the first time Chan voted on such a tie. In 2010 he cast a vote to decide that two residential blocks on Kennedy Road, owned by late tycoon Li Koon-chun's family, should remain at grade II, after the board was equally split on whether the grade should be II or III. He said then he was more inclined towards conservation.