Concerns over police station plan's approval

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2011, 12:00am

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Conservationists are questioning why the Environmental Protection Department has given the go-ahead to the Jockey Club's revitalisation plan for the Central Police Station compound without waiting for a report on the latest archaeological finds.

The department already issued an environmental permit on April 18, even though the club is still studying the relics recently discovered and preparing a report to submit to the Antiquities and Monuments Office.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of Professional Commons, questioned the basis for approving the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, which was submitted in January and did not contain the latest findings.

'Approval should be given only with the most updated information,' Lai said. 'Since the study brief for the EIA included a field investigation, I wonder whether this EIA is a compliant report.'

A department spokesman defended the permit, saying it came with conditions, including a requirement for an additional archaeological investigation during the detailed design stage. It vowed to follow up on the requirements.

The club said the fieldwork could not be done earlier due to constraints such as a tight schedule.

The club, which is leading the HK$1.8 billion project, has been reluctant to disclose details about relics and items excavated.

But after a South China Morning Post report, it released yesterday a photo of one of the 16 test pits that have been excavated. The Post reported that a site investigation was completed and could lead the club to review the design, potentially causing further delays.

'The foundation [at the parade ground] is probably associated with the restroom of the Central Police Station, but consultants are yet to determine whether it was from the 19th or the 20th century,' a club spokesman said. A tunnel-like structure, probably for water storage, has also been identified. A number of artefacts found include an opium container and a few shards of porcelain.

The club has yet to release photos of the remaining 15 test pits, give details on the relics, and say whether the foundations are from a previous prison dating back to the 19th century.

'A detailed analysis will be carried out on the archaeological finds and a report, which is being finalised, will be released to the public in due course,' the spokesman said.

Test pits are understood to have been excavated in eight areas with archaeological potential. The areas include the prison yard, where a radial prison stood between 1858 and 1887; and two locations proposed for building two cubic edifices.

The club plans to turn the compound, consisting of 16 historic buildings, into an arts complex.

Alexander Hui Yat-chuen, director of Heritage Hong Kong, said the big questions now were whether what was found in the test pits warranted further comprehensive fieldwork and whether an overall big dig was in the public interest.