12-month reprieve for mansion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am

Government proposes turning European-style home into a monument

The government has stepped in to save a rare, European-style mansion from demolition by proposing that it be turned into a monument.

The gazetted order will last 12 months and protects the two-storey building in Pok Fu Lam with immediate effect and until the Antiquities Authority can examine whether it qualifies to be a declared monument.

The mansion, called Jessville, overlooks Sandy Bay and stands about 400 metres south of Queen Mary Hospital. It can be reached from Pokfulam Road by a private road.

Records at the Land Registry show Jessville is owned by Samsbury Investments, a company owned by William Nixon Thomas Ching Tam, Wong Hong-yuen and Jessie Tam.

The mansion was built around 1931 by William Ngar Tse Thomas Tam, a barrister and social figure. In 1947 he was appointed a magistrate, then the highest-ranking Chinese judge. He named the mansion after his wife's English name.

Antiquities officials have tried but failed to reach the landlord since 2004, after the Buildings Department received a demolition application. The landlord applied to have it pulled down again on March 29, but never replied to the government.

No one appeared to be at the mansion yesterday. The bell went unanswered. There were several dogs on the property and the garden seemed to have been watered.

It is the second time the government has proposed that a private building become a monument. In 2003, the Home Affairs Bureau gave the Morrison Building in Tuen Mun temporary protection. The building, once a meeting place for the Communist Party, became a declared monument a year later.

Surveyors estimate the Pok Fu Lam site, with an area of 6,440 square metres, could fetch about HK$200 million on today's market.

Conservationists applauded the move but said the heritage protection system was far from perfect.

They cited the vacant grade-three-listed Lai Chi Kok Hospital. The Correctional Services Department has applied to tear it down to make way for a new staff quarters.

David Tam Kwok-hung of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood said he received a fax from the Home Affairs Department only on January 30 about the demolition plan. Only three district councillors were informed of the plan and given just a week to comment.

'I would like to know why the government decided not to consult the entire district council on such an important redevelopment plan,' said Mr Tam.

A Home Affairs spokesman said when developers were faced with a tight schedule, a two-week consultation period may be shortened to just one week.

A spokesman for Correctional Services said plans were at an early stage and once finalised, they would be presented to the relevant bodies for consultation.