Put a price tag on old buildings: surveyors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2007, 12:00am

Valuation could ease job of grading potential heritage sites 'before it is too late'

Historic buildings should be given a price tag to reflect their potential to become heritage sites, a surveyor group has suggested.

This would help in assessing their grading, the group said.

It is proposed that the government invite surveyors specialising in estimating heritage sites' historical and architectural value to conduct an assessment of these buildings.

The purpose of the exercise would be to assist the Antiquities and Monuments Office in recommending buildings for grading and monument consideration before it was too late.

David Tse Kin-wah, chairman of the Hong Kong board of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said it had become a trend for authorities in Britain and the United States to take the lead and survey historical buildings and estimate their value.

He said the idea was similar to rating the aesthetic and historical values of antiques.

'The nomination of old buildings for assessment by the Antiquities and Monuments Office can be subjective as the interpretation of their heritage or historical values are subjective,' Mr Tse said.

'But if we invite surveyors who specialise in the field to estimate the value of these buildings with a price, which takes into account the intangible criteria and other surveying means, the office would have a more objective reference of the worthiness of these buildings.'

The institution in August launched a discussion document on how the values of heritage buildings could be surveyed.

Mr Tse said although the methods put forward by the document might not be totally applicable to Hong Kong, the idea was that the government should rate old buildings in private hands and check their condition.

According to the Hong Kong Standard Planning Standards and Guidelines, the Antiquities and Monuments Office is responsible for periodically identifying old and historic buildings for conservation.

The criteria for identification include age, association with special historical interest and well-known people, and outstanding architectural merit.

But the last survey carried out by the Antiquities and Monuments Office was about 10 years ago.

Ng Cho-nam, a member of the Antiquities Advisory Board, said the lack of prioritisation was a problem for heritage conservation.

Unlike the assessment used with natural heritage sites, such as the Mai Po marshes, where priorities are clearly listed, the Antiquities and Monuments Office does not do this.

Mr Ng said the proposed assessment might help the Antiquities and Monuments Office set up a priority list but a consensus on what criteria should be taken into account must be reached before surveyors assess potential heritage value.

'It is important to work out a marking scheme acceptable to the public,' he said.

'We need consensus on what should be considered more and what should be considered less before such assessment is to be carried out.'

However, the chairwoman of the Conservancy Association, Betty Ho Siu-fong, said it was difficult to quantify intangible values such as a building's contribution to the city's culture and its architectural aesthetics.

'The assumption of surveying is indeed subjective,' she said.

'It is even more dangerous for the public to believe that the price would reflect a building's worthiness objectively, but indeed it doesn't.'

A spokeswoman of the Antiquities and Monuments Office said it had no plan to survey the value of historical buildings.