Expert insulted as charter 'misused' for hill project

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2011, 12:00am


An international heritage specialist says she feels 'offended' that the Hong Kong government has used a conservation charter she helped draft to justify the redevelopment scheme for historic Government Hill.

Dr Hilary du Cros, a member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), spoke up a day after the Development Bureau announced it would go ahead with the plan to sell the west wing of the government building in Central while scrapping a giant shopping mall from the plan.

'I must say they were cherry-picking from the charter to fast-track the scheme,' du Cros said.

Du Cros, a culture management professor at the Institute of Education, said she did not participate in an activists' campaign to save the hill until a letter written by the government posted on the website Forum Unesco caught her eye.

In the letter, in response to the Government Hill Concern Group, officials cited articles of the Burra Charter to bolster the claim that a new office tower would not distort the cultural significance of the historic hill.

The charter, drafted by Australia Icomos and widely used in the Asia-Pacific region, advocates comprehensive research and community participation in preserving sites.

'My research tells me this is the first time the government mentioned the charter when talking about Government Hill, although it started the plan years ago,' du Cros told the Post. 'As an individual and one of those who drafted the charter, I feel offended by them using it in the last minute to fast-track the scheme.

'If they were to follow the charter, they would have to do a lot more than what they have done to reach a development option,' she said.

Australia Icomos sought her comments after it was alerted by the Unesco forum and du Cros said Hong Kong should engage historians, archaeologists, landscape architects and other experts for the hill project, 'instead of relying on a bunch of architects', and have people reflect on the cultural significance of the whole of Government Hill.

In 2009, the government commissioned British conservationist architecture firm Purcell Miller Tritton to appraise the site. '[But] what the consultant was asked to do is the basic minimum. We can't have architects talk about the socio-political significance,' du Cros said.

Officials should also have looked into a reuse option instead of redevelopment, she said.

Australia Icomos is considering taking up the issue at the council's general assembly in Paris in two weeks and whether to write to the Hong Kong government to express the group's concerns.

The Development Bureau was unable to comment yesterday.

A consultation this year drew 103 submissions, of which 79 were from people mostly against redevelopment. There were 11 groups of developers and surveyors that supported the plan and an equal number of groups opposed to it, such as the Civic Party and Institute of Architects.

The Antiquities Advisory Board, meanwhile, will meet next Wednesday to discuss whether to give a historic grading to the west wing.