Allowing owners to transfer plot ratios is seen as an effective way to protect history
Allowing the owners of heritage buildings to transfer plot ratios to other lots in the same district could help preserve history, according to planners and property experts, but some say there are restrictions in practice.
Last month, the Planning and Lands Bureau said the Government aimed to save privately owned heritage buildings in urban areas by allowing plot-ratio transfers and was studying legal aspects of the measure.
Explaining how it would work, analysts gave as an example a property owner with two sites - one that could provide 10,000 square feet of commercial area if a historical building was rebuilt, and another in the same district that could provide 200,000 sq ft.
The measure would allow 210,000 sq ft to be built on the latter site on condition that the historical building was retained.
Antiquities Advisory Board chairman David Lung Ping-yee said plot-ratio transfer was a good measure for protecting heritage because it was not practical to ask the Government to pay, say, HK$500 million to buy a building such as the Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay for preservation.
Gold Rich Consultants director Francis Lau Tak said the measure would be a positive move to retain heritage buildings without infringing on private property.
He said that without a plot-ratio transfer, private-land owners would suffer a loss once their properties were zoned as heritage.
With a transfer measure, the owners could find a more valuable site in the same district and transfer the heritage plot ratio.
He said that if the owners could not find a more valuable site in the same district, they could sell the site at full market value to other developers with land banks in the area.
However, Tang Bo-sin, assistant professor in the building and real estate department of the Polytechnic University, said the application of the plot-ratio-transfer measure probably would be restrictive.
He said it would be applied only to private sites of historical value with land leases that allowed redevelopment.
And the heritage owners themselves would have to find an appropriate site to which they were willing to transfer the plot ratios, he added.
Mr Tang also said that even when heritage buildings were retained after their plot ratios were transferred, the management of them needed to be addressed.
He suggested the Government take responsibility of management, and the related funding in particular, through the Urban Renewal Authority which is to be established next year.
One planner said the measure would be of no help in certain circumstances.
'If there are no other sites available in the same district, how can you transfer the plot ratio?' he asked.
Mr Lau said plot-ratio transfers might cause problems for town planners.
Allowing plot ratios to be transferred from one site to another would increase the plot ratio of the second site.
But Mr Lau said planners would not have known this when preparing their schemes. However, the problems were bearable, he said.
Mr Lung of the Antiquities Advisory Board said that while plot-ratio transfers could help preserve heritage buildings, the measure should not be limited to urban areas.
He said many historically valuable buildings were in the New Territories, such as the walled village in Kam Tin. This privately owned property was not properly retained, he said.
Mr Lung also urged the Government to undertake more comprehensive planning in retaining heritage buildings.
'The planning should be done on a district basis,' he said.
For instance, in Yau Ma Tei, there were a lot of heritage sites, such as the Police Office, Yau Ma Tei Cinema and Red House, the retention of which could be strategically planned.