Activist frets as traffic builds at Qing-era bridge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2011, 12:00am


Heritage officials have failed to conserve a rare Qing dynasty granite bridge in Yuen Long, leaving it defaced and carrying an increasingly heavy load of traffic in a village being transformed by redevelopment.

The Lee Tat Bridge was built in 1903 in an architectural style similar to the Lun Tsun stone bridge uncovered at the former Kai Tak airport site. The Lun Tsun structure was built in the 1870s, and the government is carefully restoring it.

But a different fate has befallen the Lee Tat Bridge, in the village of Sui Tsan Tin and originally built for pedestrians.

In 2005 it was widened, with layers of metal and concrete, to carry traffic. It provides the only vehicular access to the community.

'If the Lun Tsun stone bridge deserves such a high level of attention, why should this one be ignored?' heritage activist Lee Koon-tai said. The bridge preserves the memory and civic contribution of his great- grandfather, Lee Luk-hop, a village leader who funded its construction in 1903.

The 14-metre-long bridge originally enabled villagers to cross a fast-running stream in the low-lying community, which flooded after heavy rain - and still does. A stone tablet still stands near the bridge, bearing Lee Luk-hop's name.

'We used to have a few historic structures here, but they have already made way for new houses,' Lee said. 'This bridge and the brick kilns are the last [bit of the past] ... If I give up fighting, it will be destroyed one day.' He is concerned that pressures on the old structure will increase as new residential developments continue to grow.

Professor Patrick Lau Sau-shing, the lawmaker representing architects, planners and surveyors, said the government had a duty to restore the bridge. 'After all, a Qing stone bridge is not supposed to carry trucks. It should become vehicle-free as soon as possible.'

Lee has asked the Yuen Long district office to build a new bridge, but it turned him down because of the expense and technical difficulties of transplanting trees and building a retaining wall, he said.

In 2002 he managed to stop the demolition of the old bridge. The Yuen Long office and some villagers were proposing to replace it with a wider structure that could support vehicles, including trucks, but Lee prevented that by complaining to the Antiquities and Monuments Office,(AMO), which called for the bridge's preservation. As a compromise, the district office, as an 'urgent improvement measure', added metal and concrete layers on top of the old bridge surface for vehicles.

But the AMO said the metal and concrete were 'unsympathetic interventions', and gave the bridge a grade-three historic rating - recognising it as one of Hong Kong's six remaining traditional Chinese bridges. Its design is technically sophisticated, with angular edges that divert and slow the water flow - a feature also found on the bridge in Kai Tak.

A Home Affairs Department spokeswoman was unable to explain the slow progress being made towards conservation since 2005, apart from noting there were different views among villagers. 'The Yuen Long district office would be happy to further discuss the matter with villagers concerned,' she said.

The Commissioner for Heritage's Office, under the Development Bureau, will not say whether the bridge will be restored, but says the metal and concrete layers are 'reversible for possible restoration in future'.