Youth hostel scheme for historic housing block hit by new doubts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2008, 12:00am

New doubts arose yesterday about the future of the oldest public housing block in Hong Kong after a group interested in turning it into a youth hostel demurred over its outdated floor plan and degraded structure.

Mei Ho House, part of the now demolished Shek Kip Mei Estate, is one of seven historic buildings earmarked for government conservation in a programme that will provide up to HK$5 million to revitalise the structures.

The Society for Community Organisation, which had earlier expressed interest in running a hostel in the half-century-old building, is reconsidering after a visit to the site yesterday, spokeswoman Iman Fok Tin-man said.

Soco was one of several potential applicants that joined a tour of Mei Ho House yesterday, organised by the Development Bureau.

The bureau requires the operator of the youth hostel to conserve a unit typical of each of the four distinct flat categories, and retain the H-shaped structure, which includes a central block from which chunks of cement have fallen.

'Mei Ho House was designed to accommodate different families, so there are rooms for two to as many as 12 people,' Ms Fok said. 'As we have to preserve some of the rooms, it may be difficult for us design a new floor plan for the youth hostel.

'We are also concerned about the soundness of the architectural structure of the central block. We may have to demolish it and build it up again. Although the renovation will be subsidised, it could be complicated,' she said.

Legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood said the deteriorating condition of the buildings could deter applicants but subsidies and rent exemptions meant the offer was still attractive.

The Youth Hostels Association was positive about the potential of the building.

'It's a world trend to have youth hostels in urban areas because young travellers prefer to experience more of a city's culture,' a spokesman said. 'Mei Ho House's location could be attractive ... we are consulting professionals on whether the structures are suitable for a youth hostel.'

Applications for the seven sites will close on May 21.

The Development Bureau said the number of applications received was not available.

The other buildings include the Lui Seng Chun tenement building and North Kowloon Magistracy in Sham Shui Po, Lai Chi Kok Hospital, the old Tai Po police station and Fong Yuen Study Hall on Ma Wan.