Church deserved more protection

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2011, 12:00am


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Nothing is more disheartening than seeing buildings with heritage value knocked down one after another in the name of redevelopment. Once packed with architectural and historical monuments like its neighbour in Macau, Hong Kong has few remaining structures that offer a rare glimpse of its past. Despite an awakening to the need for better conservation in recent years, old buildings still face the wrecker's ball once owners see greater benefit from redevelopment.

A case in point is a 72-year-old church built in pseudo-Gothic style in Happy Valley. In a step which seems inconsistent with heritage conservation, the Lands and Development Advisory Committee, a government-appointed panel, has advised the authority to support a plan to tear down the Pioneer Memorial Church of Seventh-day Adventists to build a complex with church facilities and a care home for the elderly. While it is tempting to support plans that provide more floor space and facilities, the price to pay is losing a rare testament to Hong Kong's unique east-meets-west history.

The pre-war church, despite its 'very unusual and rare' architectural characteristics - a roof featuring hybrid scissor-trusses with braces and collars crossing and fixed to each other - and a history of being used as a stable during the Japanese occupation, was only given grade-three status by the Antiques Advisory Board last year. The ranking, the lowest on the scale, unfortunately does not give legal protection against demolition. A plan to 'reassemble' the key features in the new building means little more than housing the relics in a museum, which falls short of proactive conservation.

It is puzzling that experts responsible for heritage grading have not given the church the protection it deserves. More disturbing is the bad advice given by panellists focused on development opportunities, sometimes at the expense of conservation. A more coherent approach is needed if the government is true to its heritage conservation policy.