Why these tenement buildings must not be demolished

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2007, 12:00am

The Urban Renewal Authority's (URA) renewed plan for Wedding Card Street would have been sound except that it comes with the destruction of Hong Kong's heritage - the two rows of tenement buildings which the URA has described as 'unremarkable' ('Wedding Card Street buildings have to go', December 13).

Having been a long-time Wan Chai resident, I feel compelled to take issue with the URA over its steadfast refusal to preserve the 'tong laus'. To state as the URA did that these buildings in Lee Tung Street 'have no significant architectural or heritage value', is to conveniently ignore the huge body of literature by cultural, historical and heritage experts, which gave a prize to a citizen-initiated planning proposal to preserve the street.

Nor is there any acknowledgment by the URA of the strong opinions of local residents or the community at large over preserving what is left of Hong Kong's old city. How many streets are left with two full rows of tong laus?

The URA says the buildings 'do not meet current building standards and are in structurally very poor condition', and 'it will be difficult, costly and not worthwhile to renovate these very dilapidated buildings which are beyond their economic life'. Isn't it precisely the URA's task to preserve and regenerate these buildings? Preserving our urban heritage is one of the professed missions of the URA, yet its approach to heritage is to demolish and recreate, rather than preserve and revitalise.

The crux of the matter is, of course, cost. A URA study showed that preserving the buildings is technically feasible. As to whether it is too costly, can the URA tell us how much it is going to make from the two big towers at either end of Lee Tung Street?

Maybe it is still not too late to save the tenement buildings. The URA needs only to go one extra mile - go ahead and build the towers, but stop the demolition of the tong laus. Refurbish them, and offer the residents the choice of going back. The great idea of the 'Wedding City' can still be realised, and Hong Kong as a whole will be richer by having a piece of our history and heritage preserved and revitalised.

Chan Wai-kwan, Mid-Levels