Haphazard approach to preservation must stop
With the public outcry over the demolition of the old Star Ferry pier late last year still fresh in the memory, Hong Kong is in the midst of a community consultation on ways to strengthen and broaden its heritage preservation system. It is a process that began three years ago and then stalled - a situation the government was content to do nothing about until the ferry protests caught it unprepared.
In his re-election campaign earlier this year, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen promised to improve his government's record on preservation, beginning with the resumption of the consultation. The aim is to strike a sensible balance between development and preservation. It is hoped that findings due by the middle of the year will reflect a consensus. As shown by our report today on contradictory heritage outcomes, they cannot come soon enough.
The government has intervened to save a rare European-style mansion in Pok Fu Lam Road, overlooking Sandy Bay, from demolition for at least 12 months to give the Antiquities Authority time to determine whether it should become a declared monument. The Italian Renaissance-style building in a garden setting, thought to be worth HK$200 million on the market, is described as very rare in its urbanised environment.
Four years ago, a precedent was set with the Morrison Building in Tuen Mun, once a meeting place of the Chinese Communist Party. It was also given temporary protection before being declared a monument.
While the decision pleased conservationists, it contrasts with the uncertainty hanging over the 83-year-old Lai Chi Kok Hospital. A Sham Shui Po district councillor says only three councillors were informed of a plan to demolish the vacant building and build staff quarters for the Correctional Services Department, and then were given only a week to express their views.
This suggests the present system remains haphazard. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive plan that applies consistent criteria for what should be kept and how it should be preserved.