Surge in rich owners who want historic status lifted

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am

There has been a surge in the number of rich owners objecting to the government slapping historic status on their properties.

As the consultation period for the proposed gradings of more than 1,440 buildings closed last month, the number of owners asking to have their heritage status removed had increased from 11 in September to 72, according to a paper to be discussed today by the Antiquities Advisory Board.

The buildings include mansions on The Peak, the few remaining shophouses in Central and Sham Shui Po, a monastery in Stanley, and village houses in Sha Tau Kok in the restricted area in the New Territories.

An Italian Renaissance-style mansion at 20 Severn Road, for example, is owned by the family of William Ma Ching-wai, chairman of Tai Sang Land Development.

The company also owns a verandah-type shophouse at 190 Nathan Road, another building the owner wants delisted.

The government said the owners were concerned about the implications of the proposed gradings on their private property rights and development rights.

The antiquities board will soon start to consolidate all the gradings in a series of meetings. It will also be briefed today on a 'protective mechanism' the government has proposed to better monitor graded buildings against uninformed demolition or defacement.

When owners of any grade one, two or three buildings apply to the departments of buildings, lands and planning for alteration or demolition work, the departments will alert heritage officers, who will approach the owners to discuss possible economic incentives for preservation.

If the owner of a grade-one site wants to demolish his building, the government may declare the site a temporary monument to allow time to negotiate with the owner. And it could ultimately confirm monument status to protect the building.

But if preservation is deemed not possible, the government can only ask owners to submit photographic and cartographic records of the site, and salvage some building fabrics with heritage value.

At the meeting today, the antiquities board will discuss conservation options for the Longjin stone bridge, an archaeological discovery at the Kai Tak development site.

The government has completed a conservation management report, noting the historic significance of the bridge, which was built in 1873 to serve as a landing pier.

The report said the bridge not only signified economic growth of old Kowloon city, but illustrated its strategic position in upholding Chinese jurisdiction of the Kowloon Walled City in the colonial period.

The remnants of the stone bridge, together with foundation walls of a pavilion, should be preserved and incorporated into a heritage trail in the future Kai Tak, the report said. Monument status is also recommended.

The government will launch a public consultation to gauge views on how best the remnants should be preserved and interpreted.