Heritage partnership scheme a step forward
A new scheme to encourage charities and other non-profit groups to help take care of historic buildings is a sign the government is taking a more proactive and innovative approach to heritage preservation. Too often, officials have failed to act until old buildings actually come under threat. This was the case with the King Yin Lei Mansion and Kam Tong Hall - now resurrected as Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum in Mid-Levels - when workers had already moved in with plans to pull them down. The new pilot scheme, announced by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his policy speech, goes some way towards changing that passive mindset.
It has earmarked seven heritage buildings owned by the government. Services groups are invited to take charge of these buildings - and maintain and open them to the public - in return for paying practically no rent. Initial seed money of up to HK$3 million and expert advice on heritage preservation will be provided. However, preserving these buildings also requires technical skills. The Development Bureau, which runs the scheme, must make sure the successful applicants are up to the job. Teething problems are likely to arise, especially with elaborate structures such as the old North Kowloon magistrate court.
Commendable as the scheme is, the government has neglected other historic buildings it owns, which have already been rented free to NGOs. These buildings include the medical sciences museum in Mid-Levels, the former Aberdeen police station and a former hospital in Sai Yin Pun. The Warehouse Teenage Club, which has operated out of the police station for more than a decade, has to pay for maintenance and repairs out of its own pocket. This amounts to 15 per cent of its annual operating budget of HK$2.5 million.
Currently, these groups are not qualified for the new scheme. However, as it is a pilot scheme, the bureau should seriously consider expanding it to include other non-profit groups that can show they are capable of successfully maintaining such buildings. Gradually expanding this scheme will encourage more groups and people to take part in heritage preservation and education.