It wouldn't matter who won site, says legislator

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am

1881 Heritage never lacked controversy.

Had Cheung Kong's rival to the bid won in 2003, it too would have been caught up in the latest public storm, courtesy of the government's bungled attempt to get an accurate estimate of the exact size of the former Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui.

'Had Sino Land won the site because it had the best heritage conservation scheme, it might also have been embroiled in this latest row on bonus gross floor space,' said lawmaker Dr Patrick Lau Sau-shing, of the surveying and planning sector and a member of the Professional Forum.

Since Li Ka-shing's flagship company won the government tender, the project has become the most frequently cited example of the government's failure in heritage conservation. The abandoned Grade 1 monument is now a network of a luxury hotel, shops, restaurants and bars serving high-end customers.

When the government first offered the tender, five companies joined the bid in 2002. The winner would receive a 50-year land grant.

The planning brief required the successful bidder to preserve the integrity of the historic compound, including the historic buildings and setting, the greenery and the slopes. But in the end, the hill and most of the mature trees disappeared.

The heritage value of the site would have been better preserved if Sino Land had won the bid, based on the plan it had presented for the site, a government source knowledgeable about the project said.

But a close examination of the information the then Tourism Commission released back in March 2003 shows Sino's development scheme, artist impression and master landscape plan were similar to the 1881 Heritage after completion. Sino did promise to keep the hill and trees in their original state.

Cheung Kong won the project because it offered a bigger lump sum to the government - HK$352.8 million.

In an effort to strengthen its bid, Sino also submitted its award-winning designs of the Fullerton Hotel and Far East Square in Singapore aimed at demonstrating its expertise at preserving and reusing heritage buildings.

The other bidders did not show relevant experience, the government source said.

But Lau thinks the government's failure in getting an accurate estimate of the gross floor area of the project would have made no impact on tendering prices.

Money talks

Five companies joined the bid for the Tsim Sha Tsui site in 2002

Cheung Kong won the site of the former Marine Police headquarters after it offered a lump sum of, in HK dollars: $352.8m