Shophouses to be preserved by URA

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am

Authority earmarks dozens of pre-war buildings in its 'most ambitious initiative'

Close to 50 pre-war shophouses will be preserved by the Urban Renewal Authority, which is to dish out financial incentives to owners to help restore the buildings.

Twenty of them are expected to be acquired compulsorily because of their high historic value.

A district representative yesterday welcomed what the URA chief described as 'the most ambitious initiative', but urged the authority to offer an option allowing owners to transfer their development right elsewhere.

Shophouses refer to low-rise buildings with a verandah. The upper floors are usually residential flats, while the ground floor is occupied by shops.

'The acquired buildings will be revitalised,' URA chairman Barry Cheung Chun-yuen said.

'The authority's financial burden will not be increased significantly because incomes will be generated when buildings are put to good use.'

A study commissioned by the URA this year found 48 shophouses - in Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po and Wan Chai - that should be protected, Mr Cheung said.

The study, steered by David Lung Ping-yee of the University of Hong Kong and Malaysian conservation architect Tiong Kian Boon, assessed 66 shophouses and found 18 were of no significant historic value because their original forms and characteristics had been altered significantly.

The remaining 48 shophouses have been categorised into three groups, to be given different degrees of preservation.

Of outstanding heritage value are 20 shophouses grouped in category one, said to form an important part of Hong Kong's history.

Ten of them, located in Shanghai Street in Mong Kok, are already recognised as grade one historic buildings by the Antiquities and Monuments Office. Some are used by brothels.

The authority plans to acquire those properties on a compulsory basis. Owners will be guaranteed enough compensation to buy another flat, of seven years old, in the same district - the same formula of compensation given to others affected by URA redevelopment plans.

The next 16 shophouses, grouped under category two, bear lower historic value but reflect the city's past social development.

The authority will quote market prices to acquire them. If owners do not wish to sell them, or if there are title problems, the authority will offer to take up a long tenancy at the shophouses with a provision for subletting for adaptive reuse.

The remaining 12 shophouses, which fall into category three, have some historic and social value. Owners will get financial help to restore the original architectural elements on the facades and to improve safety in common areas.

The 48 buildings will add to a list of seven shophouses, at Lee Tung Street and Johnston Road in Wan Chai, already under the authority's preservation.

Mr Cheung said the URA would work to prevent owners from redeveloping the shophouses into high-rises before acquisition was made.

The authority was studying the total cost of preservation and acquisition. An action plan would be formed by the end of the year, Mr Cheung said, adding public views would be sought.

Stephen Ng Kam-chun, vice-chairman of Wan Chai District Council, said: 'The proposal is a win-win solution to protect the shophouses, but the authority has to respect the owners' right of redevelopment.'

Mr Ng said owners could sell their buildings for a better profit to developers to be built into high-rises. He hoped the authority would consider letting them transfer their development rights in other areas.