Lawmaker blasts bureau over failed application for Old House

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 September, 2010, 12:00am

A failed applicant for a heritage revitalisation scheme has criticised the government for a lack of clear guidelines and public consultation when asking for proposals.

Lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee said the Development Bureau failed to give reasons for rejecting his group's proposal, the only one shortlisted in the final round for the Old House at Wong Uk Village, Sha Tin.

The Hakka house was one of five sites in the second round of the scheme. The bureau, in announcing the results of the applications last week, said it decided to leave the site as it is because no proposal was good enough and the house was too small for use.

'I am extremely disappointed,' Fung, chairman of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood Social Service Centre, told a media briefing yesterday.

'The vetting committee knew well enough what we were proposing in the first round. I don't understand why it still admitted us in the second round if it considered the site not suitable for revitalisation.'

His association had suggested turning the Hakka house and the surrounding garden into a community farm project to honour the clan's farming tradition. The house, a declared monument with strict conservation requirements, would be used for exhibitions and workshops.

The association would make use of the 8,400-square-metre garden to set up an organic farm and would excavate into a knoll on the site to establish a health food centre.

It also proposed landscaping the garden and transplanting young trees bordering the site to make the entrance more accessible and the house more visible, and 58 old trees Hakka villagers grew for food and medicine would be kept intact.

But the bureau said last week it was not sure whether residents living nearby would welcome such extensive landscape changes.

'If residents' views are a consideration, officials should have held consultations with them to find out the dos and don'ts before inviting applications,' Fung said. 'We were not in a position to gauge their views as we were asked to keep our application confidential.'

Dr Lee Ho-yin, director of Hong Kong University's architectural conservation programme and a consultant to Fung, said he believed the proposal fits the preservation standards.

'But the site, being a declared monument, has its inherent difficulty for revitalisation,' he said. 'The government should not launch any more monuments in the next round of the scheme, given the stringent protection requirements.

'It should also devise legal protection stating different degrees of conservation standards for graded buildings.'

Residents' opinions could be a selection criterion for all heritage sites in the next round of the scheme, the chairman of the vetting committee, Bernard Chan, said in a radio interview yesterday.

In this round, only the selection process for Wan Chai's Blue House involved such consultation, as it was the only site with people living in it and the committee hoped to see them support the future operator.