More incentives sought to save privately owned heritage sites

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 March, 2009, 12:00am

The government should give more incentives to owners of graded historic sites to prevent the King Yin Lei saga happening again, an Antiquities Advisory Board member said.

Ng Cho-nam said although the government had made a breakthrough and extended coverage to sites that were not buildings in the latest batch of graded sites, grading alone could not ensure preservation because it did not give the sites statutory protection.

'Grading is only the first step,' Dr Ng said. 'The government needs to continue to put in resources to protect privately owned heritage. To get to the root of the problem, the town planning policy should be changed to enable heritage owners to transfer their development rights.'

There are at least two graded buildings under threat - a mansion at 64 Kennedy Road and Jessville on Pokfulam Road. The owner of the Kennedy Road site has received approval to redevelop it, while the owner of Jessville has threatened to demolish it and build residential towers.

Board chairman Bernard Chan said he was worried some privately owned heritage would be threatened and appealed to the public to keep an eye on the sites. Seventy per cent of graded buildings are privately owned.

The government has talked of a heritage trust to acquire private sites or to compensate owners for not tearing them down, but Development Bureau deputy secretary Janet Wong Wing-chen said yesterday the trust would not be set up for at least five years.

She said owners could apply for public grants to maintain their historic buildings and the existing mechanism would keep the government informed if an owner attempted to alter a building's structure or demolish it. The government could then declare the site a proposed monument and buy a year's time to negotiate with the owner.

However, if the owner did not alter the structure but defaced the building, as in the case of King Yin Lei, at 45 Stubbs Road, he could escape government attention. It was only after media reports that the government declared the mansion a proposed monument and saved it last year.