Plans to sell off Government Hill display ignorance and irresponsibility

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am


The government's plan to sell off a large area of Government Hill to a private developer shows how shamelessly irresponsible our short-term politicians are regarding heritage conservation. There is an urgent need for knowledge-based public deliberations on proper protection of this immensely significant heritage area.

The west wing of the Central Government Offices is an intrinsic part of Government Hill. The offices' three buildings (east, central and west wings) were planned as a composite by the public works department in the late 1940s to align with the axis of Government House and form the core presence of the Hong Kong government in the heart of Central. They are surrounded by monuments, including St John's Cathedral and the Court of Final Appeal, with layers of historic relics lying underground - second world war air-raid tunnels and possible archaeological remains.

Research by academics from Chinese University's school of architecture, on display at the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage, reveals that the modest-looking west wing is actually a complex design in terms of site relationship, structural design, spatial organisation and fa?ade composition. Half of it sits atop a steep slope while the other half opens to the community on Queen's Road Central. It is a unique piece of modern architecture showing the colonial government's attempts to reach out to its citizens in the post-war era.

The Central Government Offices complex has significant group value. It is absurd to say that the west wing can be demolished and replaced with a 32-storey commercial tower without affecting the heritage significance of the entire site. Knocking it down and carrying out large-scale excavation will destroy the integrity of Government Hill. The well-maintained West Wing could be easily renovated to accommodate a mix of public uses such as libraries, archives, exhibition/conference spaces and canteens, as well as offices for public organisations.

Bernard Chan, chairman of the Antiquities Advisory Board, referring to the recently declared monument Ho Tung Gardens, said 'it is the entirety of the cultural landscape that needs to be preserved' ('Ho Tung villa owner fights back', October 26). The same approach should be applied to the entire Central Government Offices and Government Hill area, which can rightly be claimed as our most important cultural landscape. This is our heritage. It belongs to the people of Hong Kong and should not be sold to a developer for profit.

Katty Law, convenor, Government Hill Concern Group