Planning board silent on Queen's Pier plea

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am

Conservationists say 'collective memory' is no basis to judge a building's worth

The Town Planning Board has yet to respond to a demand from a harbour preservation group to intervene to save Queen's Pier, due to be demolished later this month.

The Action Group on Protection of the Harbour filed an application to the Town Planning Board yesterday demanding the board add further conditions to the Central waterfront's outline zoning plan that would preserve the 49-year-old pier.

Independent legislator Kwok Ka-ki, who leads the group, said: 'We hope the board understands public opinion has gone through a sea change over the past few years on the issue of heritage conservation. Meanwhile, many studies point to the fact the pier has special historic meaning. We hope it will support our amendment.'

Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping said on Monday that the pier would be demolished later this month.

An application to the board normally takes three months to be considered, and the board has not said how it will handle the request from the preservation group.

Meanwhile, conservationists were curious as to who first came up with the term 'collective memory' in heritage protection, saying 'social value' was more appropriate in determining the importance of something to the community.

Lee Ho-yin, director of the University of Hong Kong's architectural conservation programme, said: 'I have been wondering who suggested this to the government. In heritage conservation, the international community uses architectural, historical and social value.'

Mathias Woo Yan-wai, an architect by training and cultural critic, shared Mr Lee's view, saying the terminology was wrong.

'The terminology comes from cultural studies, no one uses it in heritage conservation,' he said.

'The focus of the discussion is wrong.'

Mr Ho asked the public to express their views on heritage conservation and whether collective memory should override other factors in deciding whether a building deserved conservation.

His remarks came as the government sought to calm public discontent created by the demolition of the Star Ferry pier building.

'In heritage conservation, we don't simply say which value overrides the other. We make assessment on an individual basis. If a building is architecturally important, we preserve the building. If the community says a particularly building is very important to them, we preserve the building,' he said.

He cited Wan Chai's Blue House as an example of the role of social value in heritage conservation.

The four-storey Blue House in Stone Nullah Lane was built in the early 1920s and gained its name in 1978 after the Lands Department painted it blue when it resumed the property rights. The story has it that the Lands Department painted it blue because it had the paint left over from a different project.

Mr Lee said the house was not an architectural gem but since it was painted blue it had become a community landmark and had gained monument status.

'Social value is important, as it helps to preserve old buildings in the face of rapid development and adds diversity to a city's landscape.'

Greg Wong Chuk-yan, a member of the Antiquities Advisory Board, also disputed the use of the term collective memory in conservation. He cited the controversy over whether the F Hall at Victoria Prison should be preserved.

'You can't use collective memory to argue for the preservation of the prison hall. How many of us have a collective memory about a prison hall?'