Group urges rethink on Government Hill site plan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 February, 2011, 12:00am

An alliance of 20 heritage protection groups and former government officials is calling for the Government Hill plan to be reconsidered and more options made available.

They submitted a proposal to the Town Planning Board opposing the sale of Government Hill for commercial development and suggesting the Central site be rezoned as a 'heritage precinct'. Alternatively, they want it returned to 'government, institutions and community uses'.

The submission will be available for public comment from February 25 for three weeks.

Katty Law Ngar-ning, convenor of the Central and Western Concern Group and member of the newly formed Government Hill Concern Group, said the proposal aimed to put two more options on the table. 'The government has so far presented only one option for Government Hill, which is to demolish the west wing and sell the site to a developer. It has given no alternatives,' Law said.

The group said government officials gave an inadequate introduction to the Town Planning Board in November, when they got the board to rezone the site from government and community use to a 'comprehensive development area', allowing construction of a new office tower. It said the government submission put to the board was only seven pages long, with attachments.

The government paper made brief reference to an appraisal by a consultant, who said reuse of the west wing was feasible and redevelopment desirable only if the government was under financial pressure.

The concern group's submission is the latest bid to oppose the government's plan to replace the west wing of the Central Government Offices with a 32-storey commercial block and an underground mall. The west wing is one of three low-rise 1950s office buildings designed to preserve the harbour view from Government House. The combination of the offices, Government House, St John's Cathedral and the French Mission Building gave rise to the name of Government Hill as early as 1842.

In its submission, the group said the site was more significant than the buildings in heritage terms and priority should be given to preserve the site. It said the buildings were in good condition and could continue to be used as offices for many years.

It suggested rezoning the site into a heritage precinct, which would prohibit demolition of the buildings. Its second option is to rezone the site for government and community use, which would prohibit any sale of part of the site and limit new buildings to the scale of those replaced.

Law said the group would table its proposal to Central and Western District Council, the Legislative Council and the Antiquities Advisory Board for discussion.

The concern group includes Designing Hong Kong, the Conservancy Association, the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, and the Professional Commons. It is supported by some retired government officials.