No new heritage policy a year after Star Ferry furore

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am

A year after the old Star Ferry clock tower was torn down and buried in a distant landfill amid vocal public opposition, a promised round of consultations on heritage policy has failed to materialise.

Despite a pledge by Patrick Ho Chi-ping, secretary for home affairs at the time, to kick-start another round of public consultation last January, no consultation paper on the subject has been released.

And the government has been criticised for not publishing detailed reports on its public consultations in 2004 and forum discussions earlier this year.

Nevertheless, to the surprise of many, a heritage conservation policy was introduced two months ago, heralding several initiatives including a pilot scheme to revitalise old buildings.

Conservationists said that still did not address the need for a long-term heritage conservation strategy even though it had introduced troubleshooting measures for individual projects.

Chan Wai-kwan, former Antiquities Advisory Board member and a senior director of the General Chamber of Commerce who co-convened the study group for a policy paper, 'Hong Kong: A Creative Metropolis', said initiatives proposed by the Development Bureau were stopgap measures, but reflected the government's 'goodwill'.

'I recognise the government's effort in acting promptly on some urgent projects,' he said. 'But these are not policies. What we need badly is a review of the existing Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance and a strategy on compensation options.'

Dr Chan also said the document outlining so-called heritage policy deferred discussion on controversial but essential topics.

Betty Ho Siu-fong, chairwoman of the Conservancy Association, also called for a policy that clarified the role of heritage conservation.

'The secretary for development is extending her help to individual projects. But overarching principles which justify government action and clarify the rights of stakeholders are needed,' she said.

'It is time for the government to draft policies and engage the public to discuss and hear opinions.'

Legislator Choy So-yuk, who chairs the Legislative Council's subcommittee on heritage conservation, said the government had heard enough and no more public consultation on the key principles was required.

'We don't need any consultation paper anymore,' she said. 'What is needed is to act and do something to save old buildings.'

She said the setting up of a Commissioner for Heritage's office to deal with heritage-related matters was proof that the government had reviewed its past inadequacies.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who took over the duties from Dr Ho in July, noted the three-month public consultation on heritage conservation policy that was conducted in 2004 and this year's forum discussions.

'With the benefit of two rounds of consultation and increasing public aspiration, the Development Bureau has wasted no time since its establishment in July this year to devise a clear policy statement and a package of relevant and viable initiatives to work with the community on heritage preservation,' she said.

'This work is characterised as action-oriented, innovation-driven and partnership-based.'