Many government departments would be willing to use renovated west wing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am


At the same time that the Antiquities Advisory Board recommended retaining the former central government offices as a heritage compound, the government announced it was sticking to its plan to allow a developer to replace the west wing with a tower. It will hover over the low-rise neighbourhood, including the remaining east and main wing, Government House, St John's Cathedral and the properties of the Anglican Church.

To appease people, officials promised to take back the site after 30 years. But calling it a 'build, operate, transfer' agreement is a sham.

The developer will have free commercial use of 88 per cent of the new 40,300-square-metre building for that 30-year period. Some 4,700 square metres of the government, institution or community space have to be handed to the government when the building opens.

Surely, the grading of the compound means that it is preferred that all three buildings are retained as the original ensemble designed by Hong Kong's chief public architect at the time, and now a rare example of modernist architecture?

All agree the architecture is not as spectacular as the old railway station, general post office and Hong Kong Club buildings we have already destroyed, but it is a historic government precinct. It can stay in public use, as we have plenty of government departments looking for space.

Most perplexing is that, in parallel, the government has been given approval from the Town Planning Board to occupy yet another eight precious waterfront sites, this time in Chai Wan. The uses include new headquarters for the Correctional Services Department, educational institutions and others. They do not add any value to the enjoyment of the harbour.

Why is the government so desperate to redevelop the existing 24,000 square-metre west wing, increasing its carbon footprint, destroying a heritage site and creating a pile of waste for our landfills, for a mere increase of 16,000 square metres in floor space in Central?

The west wing can easily be renovated for modern, open-plan office use. Outdoor open space can be created simply by removing railings and fences.

I'm astonished at the lengths the administration is willing to go in its determination to demolish the west wing for so little gain. Why is it so desperate?

What promises have been made that need to be honoured? What are we missing?

Paul Zimmerman, chief executive, Designing Hong Kong Limited