Submissions highlight weaknesses of heritage conservation system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2007, 12:00am

The submissions made by both parties of the judicial review into the preservation of Queen's Pier yesterday highlighted the weaknesses of the system for heritage conservation.

Historic buildings are assessed by the Antiquities Advisory Board, which grades them into one of three categories. Grade one structures, such as the Queen's Pier, are regarded as 'buildings of outstanding merit', which the government should make every effort to preserve.

However, the grading is not a statutory process, and it does not necessarily protect a site. Five of the 151 grade one buildings have been demolished over the past 30 years, government records show. If historic buildings are to be saved, they have to go through a second assessment system, which declares historic buildings as monuments. The Antiquities Authority, which makes the decision, may or may not consult the advisory board, the ordinance states.

Barrister Benjamin Yu SC, for the government, said yesterday that not all advisory board members had heritage expertise. He said that civil servants working for the Antiquities and Monuments Office, who studied history and conservation, were experts.

Some of the advisory board's meetings were opened to the public from 2005 but unlike the Town Planning Board, its decisions are not necessarily adopted by the government or the authority. Also, board members are appointed by the chief executive instead of elected by professional groups and universities.

The reorganisation of bureaus this year further undermined the authority's credibility. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who was appointed Antiquities Authority, is also the secretary for development. Previously, the duty of the Antiquities Authority had fallen to the secretary for home affairs.

Without a clear and fair heritage conservation policy, critics say Mrs Lam's roles conflict. If the government loses in the judicial review, she may find herself in a position to reconsider having to declare the pier a monument, critics say.

Other questions raised were: what are the criteria for declaring monuments and the exact relationship between the advisory board, the monuments office and the Antiquities Authority.