Outcry over 'minor' deal to demolish historic villa

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am


The Town Planning Board is being urged not to endorse a developer's plan to demolish a historic Spanish villa on The Peak and preserve only part of the facade.

CSI Properties wants to build a four-storey residential block with two flats behind the facade of Villa Blanca at 47 Barker Road, which was likely built in the 1930s and has a grade-two heritage rating. CSI bought the site in February for HK$204 million.

In the proposal, supported by the Development Bureau, CSI seeks a 9 per cent increase in floor space - described as a 'minor alteration' - in return for keeping the facade.

'A 9 per cent increase in floor area is not minor,' legislator Tanya Chan said. 'You ask for so much new space just to keep the historic building's facade. This is low-level conservation and should not be supported.'

The Civic Party lawmaker for Hong Kong Island said it was unacceptable that heritage officials had supported the plan without a public explanation or saying what formula was used in the 9 per cent relaxation.

Kwok Ka-ki, an executive committee member of the party, said the government should not reward the owner, which bought the site only eight months ago.

'They must have been aware of the historic grading given in September 2010. How do you justify benefitting the owner?' he said.

A spokeswoman for the Development Bureau said the heritage and antiquities offices supported the developer's proposal.

The two offices also welcomed the developer's offer to promote the site and document in photographs the conservation process. The plan includes launching an educational website and installing a plaque near the entrance.

The site was first leased to Mollers' Lands in 1899. The villa was sold to prominent industrialist Haking Wong in 1978. It was acquired by Absolute Keen Limited, whose directors Chow Hou-man and Kan Sze-man are also directors of CSI.

Jimmy Fong Man-bun, of CSI's residential arm Couture Homes, said the proposal was an outcome of discussions with the government.

Fong said in June that the company would renovate the house soon for leasing but would not change the layout and the exterior.

Yesterday he said: 'We are only following the government's direction. We have involved conservationists in the process.'

He would not confirm whether the original renovation idea had been dropped but said the company was open to different views.

The scheme is being exhibited on the planning board's website for public comments until today. The board is set to discuss it on October 7.

Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Bernard Chan said the current approach was 'pragmatic' given there was no overall heritage policy.

'It has been officials' way to bargain with the heritage owners first before making the process public. But I agree more transparency can be shed on criteria for giving such incentives,' he said.