Battle lines drawn to save Wing Lee Street tenements

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 March, 2010, 12:00am

First it was 'Wedding Card Street' in Wan Chai - now the battle against the Urban Renewal Authority wrecking ball is being waged at Wing Lee Street in SoHo, Central.

Two weeks before a redevelopment project for the area is due to be discussed at the Town Planning Board, Katty Law Ngar-ning, leading the Central and Western Concern Group, is making a final effort to save the old tenements from demolition.

The film Echoes of the Rainbow, which was shot in Wing Lee Street and won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival last month, has revived people's interest in the old street, and fuelled Law's campaign. 'People should not just come to take photos. I hope they'll come to sign our petition,' she said.

Law, working with several owners who recently renovated the buildings in the redevelopment area, said the authority should withdraw the redevelopment project so that the old street scape and characteristic tenements could remain.

'If these tenements are refurbished properly, they can make attractive properties for rent or sale. There are successful examples in the SoHo district which derive good profits for owners,' she said.

Law plans to write to the Antiquities Advisory Board to press for an assessment of the heritage value of the tenements in Wing Lee Street.

She said if, ideally, the authority gave in, the government should set a height restriction on such streets so that private owners would choose to renovate instead of redevelop the buildings.

The Town Planning Board has so far received 449 submissions from individuals, most of them objecting to the redevelopment. On Facebook, a group called Stop the Urban Renewal Authority from Destroying SoHo in Hong Kong has drawn more than 1,700 supporters.

An Urban Renewal Authority spokesman said the plan would remain unchanged before the Town Planning Board vets it on March 19. 'The community should not make a drastic, emotional decision [asking the authority to withdraw] because of promotion gimmicks for a movie,' he said.

The authority has so far acquired 40 per cent of property interests in the redevelopment area.

Its plan, covering three small sites surrounded by Staunton Street, Wing Lee Street and Aberdeen Street, has been amended several times since 2003, including on height reductions.

Nine of 12 post-war tenement buildings in Wing Lee Street, dubbed the Thirty Stone Houses, will be torn down and replaced with buildings of a similar scale. Row houses from four to 12 storeys high will replace the blocks on sloping Shing Wong Street to preserve the terrace landscape. Another two tenements in Staunton Street will be preserved and the others replaced by a 20-storey tower.

Connie Yam Oi-ting, who has run a family printing business in Wing Lee Street for more than 30 years, said she was ambivalent about the redevelopment. 'As a resident and tenant, of course I want to see the houses preserved. This is such a cosy quiet place you can't find elsewhere in Central. But I also understand my landlord is waiting to sell the property to make money for her retirement,' she said.