NGOs may get HK$2m more for revitalisation of historic buildings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2007, 12:00am

The government may raise the cap on a one-off grant to revitalise historic buildings from HK$3 million to HK$5 million in response to public opinion.

The money will be granted under a pilot scheme to help non-profit organisations maintain and operate the buildings. The government also suggested a specific tenancy of at least three to six years to minimise uncertainties encountered by organisations that reused the buildings.

The proposals were made after the government consulted NGOs on the scheme last month. The idea of collaborating with NGOs in the form of social enterprises was initiated in the October policy address as part of a conservation policy to revitalise government-owned historic buildings. Implementation in the first five years will cost HK$100 million.

Nine buildings will be available for application in February, including Dragon Garden in Tsing Lung Tau and the Blue House in Wan Chai.

The government had originally planned to grant the organisations up to HK$3 million for the first two years of operation.

But some organisations voiced concerns that HK$3 million might not be sufficient for social enterprises operating in larger buildings, the Development Bureau said in a paper submitted to the Legislative Council.

Some were worried that the tenancy would not be long enough to make the operation viable, it said.

The bureau then proposed raising the financial ceiling per building to HK$5 million to cater for large, structurally complex premises. To allay worries, the tenancy would generally last three to six years. The bureau said longer tenancies could be negotiated for good reason.

The enterprises would also get technical guidance on maintaining and repairing historic buildings, the paper said, particularly on architectural features of significance such as mosaic tiles on an internal wall.

They may apply for government funding to refurbish the buildings if they encountered unforeseeable major repairs during the tenancy, the bureau said. It said proposals would be examined in two rounds of vetting by a committee comprising officials, Antiquities Advisory Board members and heritage conservation experts.

NGOs welcomed the government response yesterday but called for more flexibility in approving the funding and tenancy.

'It will be even better if the funding can be extended for operations in the first three years,' Iman Fok Tin-man of the Society for Community Organisation said. It may turn Lai Chi Kok Hospital and Mei Ho House in Sham Shui Po into youth hostels.

Frederick Fung Kin-kee, head of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, said operational risks could be reduced if the government offered a three-year binding contract and renewed it based on the NGO's performance. The party was also planning to apply for revitalising the above two premises, plus Lui Seng Chun in Mong Kok.