CLP must avoid holding our heritage for ransom
In 2007, with the whole of Hong Kong watching demolition workers take apart the King Yin Lei mansion on Stubbs Road, the government pulled off a last-minute rescue by offering the private owner an alternative piece of land with similar development potential. At the time, it seemed like this wake-up call would bring about a comprehensive heritage conservation policy. Unfortunately, this has yet to materialise, and the government has not progressed from the methods used in the King Yin Lei incident. Essentially, the government has to negotiate with private owners of buildings with heritage value, and offer economic incentives in return for conservation on a case-by-case basis.
This model of economic incentive is not ideal, and the success of such negotiations depends upon the goodwill and civic spirit of the private property owner. Where the owners are unco-operative, there is nothing to stop them from destroying valuable buildings to maximise development potential. It is therefore heartening to see that CLP Power has already entered into negotiations with the Development Bureau regarding the future of its 70-year-old headquarters on Argyle Street. The heritage value of this site has been trumpeted by none other than CLP itself. On its website, CLP states: 'Our history is not just our own, it is a reflection of the economic development of Hong Kong.' The inauguration of its headquarters in 1940 marks an important episode in the Hong Kong story.
As Hong Kong's largest power company, CLP's success is inextricably linked with the success of Hong Kong. Over the years it has shown itself willing to contribute to the sustainable development of Hong Kong, developing greener energy resources. But should it attempt a hard bargain during the negotiations, it will appear as if CLP is holding our heritage for ransom and it will have made itself the villain in the story. CLP's property rights must be respected, but at the same time, if it is to be true to its word about being a part of the Hong Kong story, it must show that profit is not its only objective and that its aspirations are in line with those of the people of Hong Kong.