Donald Tsang

Haphazard approach to preservation must stop

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

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.