Heritage grading feels like robbery, owner says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 March, 2009, 12:00am

The government's push to clarify the heritage status of more than 1,400 buildings has had some unintended consequences.

The owner of an old building in Kowloon said he felt like he had been robbed after learning yesterday that heritage chiefs planned to categorise it as a grade-one historic building.

Chiu Chi-man said he had considered mortgaging the Sham Shui Po tenement building to keep his business - a cha chaan teng on its ground floor - and his family afloat amid the economic downturn.

'I've even thought of selling it in a worst-case scenario. Now my plans won't work any more,' the 58-year-old said. 'It's like robbing me of my property.'

The government is proposing to accord grade-one historic status to 212 buildings, which means it sees them as having the potential to be declared monuments. That would mean they could not be substantially altered or demolished.

Mr Chiu had no idea his tenement at 53 Yen Chau Street was among them until informed of the fact by a newspaper reporter.

He said he needed cash urgently to save his declining tea-house business, raise his two children and look after his octogenarian mother.

The tenement was bought by Mr Chiu's father more than 40 years ago.

'I thought I could rely on it [the building] when I retire,' he said.

The government should compensate him for his loss or buy the building for conservation, he said.

Raymond Chan Yuk-ming, of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, said the grading would limit Mr Chiu's chances of taking out a mortgage on it.

'Few are interested in buying a potential monument and the maintenance is costly,' he said.

Hendrick Leung Lee-chung, director of Centafinance, which offers mortgages to owners of tenements, said his company would not normally serve owners in Mr Chiu's situation.

Antiquities Advisory Board member Ng Cho-nam said such conflicts could only be resolved by offering economic incentives.

While the proposed gradings worry some owners, Yuen Long district councillor Mak Ip-sing plans to take the opportunity to draw up a conservation plan for the town's Lee Yick Street.

The stone-paved street has eight historic buildings, including the Tung Yick Store - once a hotel for businessmen in the Qing dynasty.