Axe hangs over private historic homes on Peak

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Amid debate over the future of Ho Tung Gardens, half the remaining private historic homes on The Peak are under threat of redevelopment.

This has prompted heritage advisers to urge a rethink of conservation measures for what one terms an 'endangered species', and a public discussion on the willingness of taxpayers to acquire at-risk sites.

The question of how many graded private homes remain on The Peak and their status was raised at a meeting of the Antiquities Advisory Board as it discussed the case of 23 Coombe Road, believed to be the oldest private home in the area and earmarked for redevelopment by owner Hutchison Whampoa Property.

Members said they had no idea how many colonial houses remained and whether they were under threat.

Checks by the Post found that owners of at least four of eight European-style houses, most of whom are developers, have obtained approval for a new building plan, are waiting for approval, or have developed neighbouring sites.

Heritage advisers said the government should make an effort to preserve those that were reminders of key public figures who contributed to Hong Kong's development, or reflected the life of early residents.

'Old houses dating from the early colonial time are like an endangered species. Whether they are related to a historic figure or have architectural merit, they already have heritage value,' said antiquities board member Dr Ng Cho-nam.

A mansion at 20 Severn Road, rated as grade 2 - second on a three-level scale and imposing no automatic bar to redevelopment - is under threat after owner William Ma Ching-wai, chairman of Tai Sang Land Development, obtained approval for a new building plan in July. Ma plans to replace the mansion, built in the early 1920s, with three houses.

Another building at risk is Villa Blanca at 47 Barker Road. Its owner, CSI Property, is waiting for the Town Planning Board to approve its proposal to erect a new house while keeping only the villa's facade.

Redevelopment also looks likely for the former French consul's home at 8 Pollock's Path, sold to Ryoden Development for HK$580 million in June and leased back to the French consulate for two years.

Ryoden redeveloped Skyhigh at 10 Pollock's Path with film star Stephen Chow Sing-chi and sold a house for a record HK$800 million.

Antiquities adviser Ng said it was difficult at the moment for government officials to do anything other than negotiate with owners case by case and offer incentives such as land swaps or a higher plot ratio.

Efforts to agree on a land swap with Ho Min-kwan, the owner of Ho Tung Gardens, have failed. She wants to demolish the main house and replace it with 10 smaller houses. The government decided to declare the mansion a monument to protect it, despite the owner's objections.

Another adviser, Lau Chi-pang, said it was not up to the board to decide whether public money should be used to buy and save private historic sites. 'The public should start the discussion now,' he said.