Pier stance ignored, court told

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

Former home affairs secretary accused of shunning opinion of antiquities board

The previous Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping shunned the opinion of an advisory body in his decision against declaring the Queen's Pier a monument, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.

Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, acting for conservation activists Chu Hoi-dick and Ho Loy in a judicial review of the government's decision over the pier, said Dr Ho, as the Antiquities Authority, had erred in relying solely on the recommendation of the Antiquities and Monuments Office.

In May, the Antiquities Advisory Board accorded the pier Grade I historical building status - the highest grading. But the AMO later recommended to Dr Ho, who had asked it for a reassessment, that the significance of the site did not warrant a declaration of monument status.

The demolition work is set to start in the middle of this month, making way for the Central Reclamation Phase III development.

Mr Lee said the AMO did not have the power to make a recommendation to the Antiquities Authority, particularly when the intended outcome was effectively to overrule the advice of the Antiquities Advisory Board and public sentiment in preserving Queen's Pier.

The advisory board, by awarding the site Grade I status, was effectively making an 'implicit request' for Dr Ho to preserve it by declaring it a monument, the barrister claimed. 'Otherwise, why should the Antiquities Advisory Board bother to grade it?' he asked.

But the government had said in its paper on the subject to the Legislative Council that there was no automatic linkage between the non-statutory grading and monument declaration. The guidelines for the grading scheme state that Grade I is given to buildings 'of outstanding merits, which every effort should be made to preserve if possible'.

Mr Lee also accused the government of attempting to 'belittle' the pier which, since its construction in 1954, had been the landing place for new governors as well as a public pier.

In submissions to the Legislative Council, the government only compared the significance of the post-war pier to the pre-war buildings, giving the impression only pre-war buildings could be declared monuments.

'The Queen's Pier is the most precious pier in the whole of Hong Kong, performing the dual role as a royal, ceremonial and public pier,' he said. 'The reliance on the pre-war criterion permeated throughout this decision-making process.'

However, Benjamin Yu SC, for the government, said the ordinance gave the Antiquities Authority a 'very wide discretion' to decide when to exercise the power to declare a building or a structure a monument. The approval of the chief executive was also required in any declaration. 'The condition precedent to the exercise of the power is that the authority must be of the opinion that the structure is of public interest by reason of its historical, archaeological or palaeontological significance. This is, however, only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the exercise of the power,' he said.

Mr Yu argued that the AMO's position had always been that the site, despite not warranting a monument status, should be preserved appropriately. 'The AMO's position is perfectly consistent with the Antiquities Advisory Board's grading. As to how it's to be preserved, it's not the subject of the grading,' he said.

The applicants, from Local Action Group, indicated yesterday that they might not appeal should the court rule in favour of the government. They said they were content to see the case had aroused concern over heritage conservation in Hong Kong.

Judge Johnson Lam Man-hon reserved his judgment to later this week.