More protection for grade-one buildings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 November, 2008, 12:00am

Grade-one historic buildings can be given monument status under revisions to the heritage grading system after a mansion in Mid-Levels was defaced before it was declared a monument.

When buildings are under threat of demolition, the government will declare them proposed monuments to allow for more time to negotiate with owners, heritage advisers were told yesterday.

'We have learned a lesson from King Yin Lei, whose protection was done in such a rush,' Janet Wong Wing-chen, deputy secretary for development, said at the Antiquities Advisory Board meeting.

The King Yin Lei mansion on Stubbs Road, previously ungraded, was hastily declared a proposed monument last year after extensive media coverage of its defacement. It was formally declared a monument in July this year.

Graded historic buildings now are usually not protected by law and have no formal channel to apply for monument status. There was also confusion over the division of responsibilities between departments on the buildings' preservation.

Under the new framework, board members will be asked to consider the heritage significance of a building, along with existing criteria including the collective memory of it.

If officials assess that a grade-one building rates highly in historical or archaeological significance, they may declare it a monument, an Antiquities and Monuments Office spokesman said.

Duties of government departments will also be clarified to include responsibilities such as seeking the owners' consent to preserve the buildings and working out any compensation.

The revisions will take effect early next year when the government completes its heritage assessment of 1,140 historic buildings, both graded and ungraded. At present, there are 114 grade-one buildings.

Board members Ng Cho-nam and Bernard Lim Wan-fung approve of the new measures, which will clear the confusion of responsibilities between the board and the government that arose during the controversies surrounding the Star Ferry Pier, Queen's Pier and King Yin Lei.

But Dr Ng also asked if the grading system would be extended to protect heritage clusters apart from individual buildings, such as walled villages in the northern New Territories.

The spokesman said the grading system did not cover heritage clusters, and that town planning procedures may offer protection.