Councillors oppose plan for historic court

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2007, 12:00am

Sham Shui Po district councillors have overwhelmingly opposed turning a historic court building into a headquarters for the examinations authority. They were particularly angered to learn yesterday that public access to most of the building would be restricted if the plan went ahead.

Officials said the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority urgently needed a stand-alone headquarters, rather than premises in an office tower, to ensure the confidentiality of public exams.

Eddie Cheung Kwok-choi, principal assistant secretary of the Education and Manpower Bureau, briefed councillors yesterday about details of the plan to turn the former North Kowloon Court, nearly 50 years old, into the authority's headquarters.

The government planned to keep the building's pseudo-classical facade and grand entrance staircase, but its two biggest courtrooms would be turned into lecture theatres for the authority's private use and 'at this stage [it] has no plans to open it to the public', Mr Cheung said.

The magistrate's benches and the iron-railed docks in which defendants used to appear would be retained. But the stepped wooden benches of the public galleries would be replaced. Nor were there plans to preserve the magistrate's chambers.

District councillor Lam Ka-fai wanted a pledge these rooms would be open to the public. Colleague Carmen Ng Mei added: 'When do children these days get to see such high ceilings?'

Councillor Wai Woon-nam asked how the authority's need for confidentiality could be reconciled with preservation. 'Did you question the stakeholders - the residents of Sham Shui Po - to see what they want?'

Ambrose Cheung Wing-sum asked whether the proposal represented the best use of the building. 'I think you have found a convenient spot and then piled on a lot of reasons to justify your need. But from what you say, the preservation is going to be minimal.'

The district council had once planned to turn the building into a museum of justice, and they still wanted it used for public purpose.