Negotiations on Ho Tung Gardens stall
The government's bid to preserve the Ho Tung Gardens historic site had hit hurdles and might fail, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitted yesterday.
Negotiations with the owner of the famous Peak Road mansion, while ongoing, had proved to be very difficult, Lam told a Legislative Council meeting. She admitted that there was a possibility that negotiations could break down and that preservation of the site might fail.
'I cannot say for sure if we can achieve our aims, but we are striving to do so,' she said.
The mansion is owned by Ho Min-kwan, the granddaughter of late tycoon Robert Ho Tung, one of the island's icons in the colonial era.
Lam was responding to a query made by legislator Tanya Chan on the project's progress.
In January, the government declared the house, which was built in 1927 and designed in a Chinese Renaissance style, as a proposed monument and banned redevelopment there for 12 months. The owner is not permitted to deface or demolish any structure on the site while the monument status is in effect.
However, the government cannot turn the site into a statutory monument without consent from the owner, who previously submitted a plan to build 11 blocks of four-storey houses yielding 60,000 sq ft of residential floor area on the land. The Buildings Department, confined to vetting only structural safety issues, approved the landlord's plan, but alerted heritage officials.
The government then acted swiftly and in January declared the site a 'proposed historic monument'. But to date it has not indicated how authorities can convince the owner to make concessions over the property rights.
Lam said that one of the reasons for the negotiation deadlock was the robust property market. 'The land is very valuable,' she said.
She said officials were waiting for feedback from the site owner, adding that she would personally attend meetings if opportunities arose.
'I have told the owner that whenever they want to talk with me, I am always available, to express my sincerity on this project,' she said.
In the past, authorities have provided owners of historically valuable sites with economic incentives, including buying back the site or offering alternative land in exchange, in the case of King Yin Lei Mansion, in Stubbs Road, in 2008.
Robert Ho Tung, who died at 94, was a businessman and philanthropist of Dutch and Chinese ancestry. Born in 1862 he was the first non-European to receive permission to live on The Peak. Ho Tung Gardens, where his son Robert Ho Shai-lai lived from the 1960s to 1990s, is the only residence with direct links to him.
His granddaughter has expressed disagreement about the site's historic value. She said in a letter to the government last year that her grandfather had not lived in the house and that the interior had undergone considerable alterations.
The amount in Hong Kong dollars the residential site could be worth if sold at the market price of about HK$50,000 per square foot