Calls to preserve Wing Lee Street mount after movie's success

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2010, 12:00am

The Urban Renewal Authority will press ahead with redevelopment of Wing Lee Street in Sheung Wan despite calls for preservation spurred by an award-winning film made in the street.

The authority said the ambience of the street, where three of 12 tenement buildings will be kept intact, would be preserved.

It was responding after filmmakers Alex Law Kai-yui and Mabel Cheung Yuen-ting, who won the Crystal Bear award at the Berlinale festival with their movie Echoes of the Rainbow, called for the street's preservation.

Cheung, the producer, said Wing Lee Street was the only place in Hong Kong that could have been used for the film, set in 1960s Hong Kong.

If it had already been demolished, they would have had to go to Malaysia or Guangzhou to find the right setting. 'That would've been ridiculous,' she said.

The authority said the project already struck a sensible balance between preservation and development. The Town Planning Board's public consultation on the plan - under which nine of the 12 tenement blocks will be demolished and redeveloped into six-storey row houses similar in style to the tenement buildings - ends today.

The street is famous for its terrace, an open space in front of the tenement buildings, where neighbours and children can get together and relax.

Connie Yam, who grew up in Wing Lee Street and now operates a printing shop on the ground floor of No7, says the street is full of childhood memories. 'I would like to see it preserved. We used to play mahjong and set up our stoves outside the buildings,' she said.

A Form Five student, named Wing, said the area was a historic gem in a concrete jungle. 'I love the place despite the bad hygiene conditions,' she said, adding her parents rented a room for their family of three in one of the tenement buildings.

The owner of an old-style printing company, Mrs Lee, who has been working at the street for more than 30 years, said business had been getting worse in recent years. 'I'm emotionally attached to this place but most neighbours have gone. It's not bad to get some compensation from the authority as it will improve our retired life.'

Kwong Haap-pak, a tenant living in a newly-refurbished tenement building close to Wing Lee Street, said preservation might not be the best option. 'Our building has a nice appearance but the structural conditions are getting worse inside.'

The authority said a study showed the buildings were dilapidated. Renovating one flat would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to an assessment on refurbishing tenement buildings in Kwun Tong.

A spokeswoman for the Central and Western Concern Group urged the authority to protect all buildings in the street. 'It's meaningless if its architectural integrity is destroyed.'