Gardens are mine, Hotung relative says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am

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The government could face a HK$7 billion compensation claim if it declares Ho Tung Gardens a monument, warns the granddaughter of late tycoon Sir Robert Hotung, who built the landmark on The Peak.

Yesterday's warning by Ho Min-kwan, the mansion's current owner, came one day after Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government was prepared for a legal battle to preserve the 83-year-old mansion.

Lam said the government had until the end of next month to discuss the matter with Ho, who has been offered a land exchange so she can develop another property near the mansion.

In a statement issued last night, Ho criticised the government offer as an effort 'to persuade me to give up my home'. 'I have no desire to trade Ho Tung Gardens for a piece of land as if it is a business deal,' Ho said.

The mansion had no historical or architectural value, and 'plans have been approved to demolish the existing main building ... to build 10 smaller homes'.

Citing estimates by 'reputable professional valuers', Ho said the market value of the completed project would be HK$7 billion.

'If Ho Tung Gardens is declared a monument, all or most of this value will be lost,' said Ho. 'The point here, too, is that citizens of Hong Kong should not be obliged to pay damages by way of compensation, and they will not have to unless the government declares Ho Tung Gardens a monument.'

She stood firm against any land exchange, saying it was her wish to 'retain Ho Tung Gardens' as her home. 'The government is asking me, the granddaughter of Sir Robert, to give up family legacy for pieces of land which have no meaning to me ... this is unfair.'

In a letter she released in October, Ho said the parts of the site that were special, the gardens, the pool and the pagoda, would not change. 'The main house is not special. My grandfather didn't spend more than a few nights there during his entire life,' she wrote.

The mansion was built in 1927 as a residence for Sir Robert's second wife, Clara. Earlier this year, the Antiquities Advisory Board supported the government's decision to declare it a monument, thus protecting it from redevelopment.

But Ho said yesterday she had inherited the land from her grandfather.

'As a Hotung, no one has a greater interest in preserving any heritage value Ho Tung Gardens may have than I do,' she said