Calls for disclosure over relics found at police station site

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am


New uncertainty surrounds the HK$1.8 billion project to turn Central Police Station into an arts complex after relics of potentially historical significance were unearthed at the Hollywood Road compound.

Conservationists have called on the Hong Kong Jockey Club - which is in charge of the huge project - to tell the public exactly what the relics are, how many have been unearthed and what the plan is to protect them.

Understood to be from a 19th-century jail on the site, the relics were found by consultants studying the site before work begins to transform the listed monument with 16 buildings into an arts complex.

The Jockey Club has confirmed relics were found, a spokesman said:

'Based on the preliminary analysis of the field findings and a review of the old maps, some foundation remains have been identified which may be associated with the former Victoria Gaol compound structures and structures of unknown uses that are still being investigated,' the spokesman said.

The Jockey Club was reviewing designs of the potential impact areas and is preparing a report for submission to the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO), he said.

'If relics of archaeological significance are found, these will be preserved for public display in consultation with the AMO,' the club said. Investigations were carried out at eight of the compounds, including the parade ground and prison yard, the club said.

It said tunnel-like structures were found at the parade ground, where a radial-plan prison stood between 1858 and 1887. An investigation is under way to establish the exact nature of the tunnels.

The club gave no details of any further discoveries and would not say whether construction of the two proposed cubic edifices, to be built on areas with archaeological potential, would affect any relics.

The latest design, by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, was unveiled in October and is a revised scheme after their initial one, a 160-metre tall, scaffold-like structure, was scrapped due to public pressure.

The revitalisation, first announced by the government in 2004, is scheduled for Town Planning Board approval soon, with construction works to begin by the end of the year.

According to a conservationist familiar with the project, the parade ground in particular was surveyed as the club had proposed that a large space would be excavated to house equipment like water tanks for sprinkler systems and air conditioners.

The conservationist said test pits dug for the investigation had likely been filled in recently. The South China Morning Post was unable to locate any pits from an aerial vantage point last week.

The possibility of archaeological remains was explained in a 2008 conservation management report and in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report submitted to the government in January.

The study found that two prisons preceded the present one, the earliest built in 1841 and redesigned in 1858 based on a radial design - a common layout in the United States at the time - with cell blocks radiating from a central hall to allow better monitoring of inmates.

According to the EIA report, the radial-plan prison was a 'remarkable feature of Hong Kong and used the latest design theories'. It was also 'looked upon as a paradise by many a rascal', so much so that Japanese representatives visited the jail and used it as a basis for prison design under the Meiji reform.

It was demolished because of overcrowding.

The latest development has drawn calls for more disclosure of information.

Katty Law Ngar-ning, co-convenor of the Central and Western Concern Group, said: 'The findings will enrich people's understanding of the place. The Jockey Club should make public its findings, such as the scale and whether the design of the project needs to be changed.

'From our experience in the former Hollywood Road police married quarters, such relics can be highly valuable. I hope the relics can be displayed if possible,' said Law, who campaigned successfully to get the government to excavate and save the relics of the Central School underneath the police quarters.

Antiquities Advisory Board member Dr Ng Cho-nam said it had been months since the Jockey Club reported to the board on the project's progress. 'The club should avoid the relics as much as possible and if it does not, it must show there is no alternative for the work,' he said, questioning whether the plant space can be put above ground to avoid excavation, and whether all the buildings need air-conditioning since it would contribute to the bulk of the plant.