Advice on saving buildings ignored

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 April, 2008, 12:00am

Government has accepted only four of the 59 sites named by antiquities board

The Antiquities Advisory Board has advised the government to declare at least 59 historic buildings as monuments since the 1970s - but only four of its recommendations have been accepted, a confidential document has revealed.

Five of the buildings have been demolished.

The revelation has prompted calls for an urgent overhaul of the conservation process. Board members and a conservation expert have also complained that the system does not offer full legal protection to valuable buildings.

The board is a statutory body set up to advise the Antiquities Authority on matters relating to antiquities and monuments and can only make recommendations on items referred to it by the authority.

The document, discussed at a board meeting in 2006, reports on the status of buildings recommended as monuments. Between 1977 and 2005, the board recommended monument status for 59 buildings, of which 15 were on government sites.

Of the five that were demolished, the Marine Department Building in Central and the south block of Western Market in Sheung Wan were government buildings and had been recommended for monument status in 1977. They were demolished in 1982. The other three were the Hong Kong Club in Central, the Sacred Heart Canossian College in Mid-Levels and the Old Sports Pavilion at the University of Hong Kong.

Five buildings or groups of buildings - Lui Seng Chun, 344 Shanghai Street in Mong Kok, Kom Tong Hall in Mid-Levels, Tat Tak Communal Hall in Yuen Long, and Pak Mong Village on Lantau Island - are expected to be declared monuments in the near future. The fate of the remaining 45 buildings, some of which have been on the preservation list for nearly three decades, is still in the balance. Tsang Tai Uk in Sha Tin, Pun Uk in Yuen Long, and Wong Chuk Hang San Wai in Aberdeen were recommended as monuments in 1978, 1979 and 1983 respectively.

While in most cases it was the owners or tenants of the buildings who objected to proposed monument status, there were instances where government departments also did so, the document revealed. For example, the Lands Department and the Government Property Agency objected to declaring the Ex-Commodore's House in Bowen Road in Mid-Levels as a monument because they needed to sort out building maintenance and public access to other buildings in the area. The building is now leased to a charitable organisation, Mother's Choice.

'It [the paper] is evidence showing that heritage, and the board, have long been neglected by the government,' board member Ng Cho-nam said. 'The demolished buildings could have been saved if more resources were allocated for heritage protection, at least for the government-owned buildings.'

Board member Laurence Li Lu-jen blamed what he described as a flawed conservation system. 'The court clearly stated that the Antiquities Authority is only required to consult the board when it intends to declare a building a monument,' he said, referring to the court's statement after the judicial review filed against the demolition of Queen's Pier.

Professor Lee Ho-yin, director of the architectural conservation programme at the University of Hong Kong, said the board should have the power to recommend buildings for monument status instead of having to wait to be consulted by the Antiquities Authority. The decision to declare a monument should not rest only with the authority.

A spokesman for the Antiquities and Monuments Office said it would not comment on confidential documents. He said the board's advice was not a determining factor in declaring a monument. That decision rested with the Antiquities Authority, a role that rests with the secretary for development.

Brick walls

Of 59 buildings the Antiquities Advisory Board has proposed become monuments, the fate of only 14 had been settled by 2005

Sites hanging in the balance include:

Tsang Tai Uk (Proposed in 1978)

No.10 & 11 Wong Chuk Hang San Wai (Proposed in 1979)

Pun Uk, Yuen Long (Proposed in 1983)

Source: Antiquities Advisory Board