Owners backtrack on vow to save mansion
Helen Wu and Olga Wong
The owners of a historic mansion in Pok Fu Lam say they are reconsidering their promise to save the 77-year-old building from demolition.
The government - which recently denied the mansion monument status, which would have ensured its protection - came under fire yesterday after the owners' position became clear. Lawmakers accused officials of naivety for relying on the owners' goodwill to protect the heritage building.
The mansion, commonly known as Jessville, was given no legal protection from being pulled down after the government withdrew its temporary monument status in February. The Secretary for Development, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, decided not to give it monument status, saying expert findings by the Antiquities and Monuments Office had deemed it not up to the high threshold. It was a grade three listed building.
The planning consultant for Jessville's owners, Ian Brownlee, said the owners wanted to consider all options available as there was no legal reason why they could not get rid of the building.
He said the original plan - to transform the mansion into the private clubhouse of a residential development - were formulated with the understanding it would be rated a monument.
'With the Antiquities Advisory Board deciding not to make it a permanent monument, there is no reason for the owner to continue to keep the house,' Mr Brownlee said.
They would continue talking to the government about possible economic incentives to encourage the owners to preserve it, he said.
The government had been negotiating with the mansion's owners over the fate of the building before the case was brought to the Antiquities Advisory Board in January. The owners had initially said they would keep the house even after it was only listed as a grade three building.
Mrs Lam said yesterday the government had commissioned experts to assess the mansion's value when it was declared a temporary monument. 'The experts' views should not be compromised because of public pressure [to keep it].'
Legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, chairwoman of the Legislative Council's subcommittee on antiquities and monuments, said the government would be to blame if the mansion was knocked down.
'The government should have known better that the building would be given no legal protection once the one-year temporary monument order was lifted. It is wrong to shift the burden to individual owners, believing that they would preserve it out of the goodness of their hearts.'
Lawmaker Patrick Lau Sau-shing, who is also a member of the Antiquities Advisory Board, said it was disappointing that the owners had refused to keep their promise.
A spokesman for the Development Bureau said the preservation proposal put forward by the owners of the building was of a voluntary nature and the government did not rule out the possibility of the building being demolished.
He said that unlike the case of the King Yin Lei mansion in Stubbs Road, there had been no agreement between the government and the owners on any economic incentives to allow development to proceed while preserving the building.
But they had also indicated to the Town Planning Board that they did not support any proposal involving demolition.