Panel speeds up assessment of historic buildings to finish list by end of the year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2008, 12:00am

The speed of assessing 1,440 historic buildings has been tripled to 120 a month to address growing public concern about heritage conservation, the government says in a paper to the Antiquities Advisory Board.

The paper also notes the Old Pillbox at Diamond Hill, a grade two historic structure representing a significant part of Hong Kong's history, would be affected by construction of the Sha Tin-Central rail link.

Lee Ho-yin, director of the University of Hong Kong's architectural conservation programme, welcomed the speeding up of the assessment process, but said the grading system did not offer full protection to historic buildings and needed stronger laws. He also urged the government to make the assessment panel more transparent.

The government has been assessing the value of 1,440 buildings since 2002, with the buildings going through two assessment stages. But the Antiquities and Monuments Office said only 1,016 buildings had gone through stage one by March.

To complete all assessments this year, the office said the assessment panel was now meeting twice a month and processing 60 buildings at each meeting, meaning 120 buildings were being assessed each month. Under the original schedule, 40 buildings were assessed a month.

The faster assessment process had begun in January in a bid to address rising public concern about heritage conservation, the office said.

The building assessment panel, composed of historians and representatives of the institutes of architects, planners and engineers, was formed in 2005. The buildings are first assessed for historical interest, architectural merit, group value, social value and local interest, authenticity and rarity. Overall heritage value is reviewed at stage two, which assesses buildings' historical, typological and contextual values. The Antiquities Advisory Board grades the buildings after the assessment.

According to the assessment criteria, a group of separate buildings could be of high historic value if they bore a 'unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to an important historical development'.

The office said the Old Pillbox at the former Tai Hom Village in Diamond Hill was an example. It was part of a historic cluster - including the Ex-Royal Air Force Station at Kwun Tong and Far East Flying School in Kowloon City - that reflected the city's aviation development.

The depot for the Sha Tin-Central rail link is planned to be built on the ex-Tai Hom village site, on which the grade-three Stone House and grade-three Former Royal Air Force Hangar are also found.

Museum of History adviser Anthony Siu Kwok-kin said the Old Pillbox was the only pillbox to be found in urban areas of the city. 'It was said to be built by the Japanese army in the second world war to defend Kai Tak airport,' he said.

Local history researcher Tim Ko Tim-keung said: 'It will lose its historic value once it is removed from the site.'