Want to visit Jessville mansion? Good luck, you'll have to book

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 October, 2009, 12:00am

Just how much access should the public get to heritage sites that are owned by private companies? In the case of Jessville, a 77-year-old mansion built in the Italian Renaissance style in Pok Fu Lam, the answer is once a week, no more than 50 people a month and by appointment only.

Not everyone is happy with those terms, which the owner agreed to in exchange for permission to build two new residential towers on the site and turn the mansion into a clubhouse. But others say it is only natural for the owner to want to limit the number of people milling around what is a private development.

A paper by the Development Bureau, submitted to lawmakers yesterday, said the public would be allowed access to no more than half of the mansion and grounds once a week.

On Wednesday, the chief executive approved a partial lifting of the Pok Fu Lam Moratorium to let the owners of Jessville build two residential towers, with 72 flats, beside the mansion. The bureau considered lifting it would give the owners an economic incentive to preserve the site.

The mansion, home to late magistrate William Ngar Tse Thomas Tam, was declared a proposed monument in 2007, but that status was denied after the government said it had an assurance from the owners the mansion would be kept as a clubhouse.

Antiquities Advisory Board member Professor Ng Cho-nam said the quota for visitors was nominal: 'It defeats the purpose. I don't think the public can benefit much from this scheme,' he said.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, a member of the development affairs panel, said: 'Even though it opens once a week, the quota may not be enough for one class of students.' She hoped guided tours could be arranged.

Patrick Lau Sau-shing, vice-chairman of the panel, said it was understandable the owner wanted to limit visitor numbers because of its private nature. 'But in the long run, we do need to discuss a better way to manage public access to private heritage sites,' the architect said.