HK needs overall plan to conserve heritage properties like Dragon Garden

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am


The government is waking up to the importance of protecting privately owned heritage, but this was not so in July 2006, when I tried to save my grandfather's [Lee Iu-cheung's] Dragon Garden, in Tsing Lung Tau (near Sham Tseng), from being sold to a developer. The antiquities authorities refused to declare it a 'temporary monument' despite a public outcry. I appealed to the Antiquities Advisory Board, which eventually gave it a historical grading of grade two. In December 2009, the owner requested an upgrade, but the board has still not heard the case.

Board chairman Bernard Chan says Ho Tung Gardens is a 'cultural landscape' and declared it a monument, so what grade should Dragon Garden be? In terms of the perfect fung shui setting, natural streams, nine pavilions, three Chinese Renaissance buildings built by renowned architect Chu Pin, murals, mosaics and statues reflecting Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Christian values, landscaped paths, the largest grove of Buddhist pines in Hong Kong, and having been a location for the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun, Dragon Garden has it all.

As with Robert Hotung's granddaughter, it is a privilege to perpetuate our family's heritage - if not for our own appreciation, for the sake of leaving behind a piece of Hong Kong's cultural heritage or history for future generations. The spirit of the place lives on to tell stories to those who visit, if the government has the insight and foresight to spend taxpayers' money in a wise way.

What kind of 'economic incentives' will the Development Bureau offer those who wish to preserve, not demolish, their property?

Would it not make more sense if the government made a holistic plan to introduce four sister heritage properties for cultural tourism, namely Haw Par Mansion, King Yin Lei, Ho Tung Gardens and Dragon Garden - Hong Kong's last remaining pre- and post-war Chinese Renaissance estates? With government subsidies, the heritage properties could be properly conserved and managed, to be enjoyed by the public. This need not preclude owners from using or living in their private property.

Until Hong Kong has its heritage trust established, it is the government's duty as custodian to provide these subsidies in the form of economic incentives. It is time to set some really good examples for heritage conservation and not narrowly define economic incentives as purely preservation-cum-development.

Cynthia Lee Hong-yee, founder, The Dragon Garden Charitable Trust