Carrie Lam

Bid to break heritage deadlock

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 4:33pm

The owner of Ho Tung Gardens should get no more than half of what she wants in compensation over a government conservation plan for the mansion on The Peak, according to a consultancy report commissioned by a foundation, of which her nephew is patron.

In an attempt to break a deadlock between the government and owner Ho Min-kwan, the report says the government should declare the building at 75 Peak Road a monument and compensate Ho for the loss of the site's redevelopment potential.

Ho wants to demolish the mansion and build 10 houses on the 11,520-square-metre site in a HK$7 billion project. However, the consultancy report suggests the government needs to pay no more than half of this figure. It argues that Ho should be compensated only with the forgone rental value of the 10 houses she plans to build, which is estimated to be about HK$200 million, instead of the sale value.

'The owner says she wants to retain the ownership of her family legacy. She wants to demolish the mansion because it is costly to maintain, and to build 10 houses to generate income and to keep one for herself to live in,' said Kenneth To Lap-kee, an urban planner and member of the Heritage Hong Kong Foundation's research team.

'If this is her real intention, we have a solution we think is good for her and for the public, and should be used by the government to break the stalemate and trigger public discussion,' To said.

The team offered its proposal last week after Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she was not optimistic about reaching a preservation agreement with the owner, who had rejected a land swap or to keep the facade of the main block, a Chinese Renaissance piece of architecture.

Robert Ho Yau-chung, great-grandson of Sir Robert Hotung and Ho Min-kwan's nephew, is the honorary patron of the foundation. It commissioned a team with architectural, planning, surveying and financial expertise to work out a proposal last year.

Historians say the estate, built by Hotung in 1927, is a reminder of the city's colonial heritage and is the only remaining property associated with the tycoon, a Eurasian and a leading social figure in the early colonial days.

Under the proposal, which will be submitted to the Development Bureau, the government would declare the site a monument and rent the main building, finance its maintenance and turn it into a cultural centre to exhibit the history of Eurasians as well as Hotung's family. It would also add a youth hostel on the existing tennis court for public use.

To satisfy the owner's wish to live on the site, the government would build a house behind the main block.

Ho Min-kwan would still own the land. She would be paid compensation equalling the net present value of the forgone rental value of the 10 houses for which she has obtained building approval, estimated to be HK$200 million. The team assumed that each house would be rented for HK$300,000 a month until the lease expires in 2033.

Ho said she had not received the proposals and could not comment.

The proposals were based on the results of a survey of 1,207 people, half of them interviewed at three public forums and half in street polls.

The survey found 57 per cent of the respondents thought the gardens were a place of 'very high cultural value'. Among this group, 74 per cent said the gardens should be declared a monument. Most agreed that the site, if made a monument, be opened to the public with cultural, tourist and educational facilities.

Foundation chairwoman Margaret Brooke said even if the owner asserts her legal right to claim compensation for the loss of the sale revenue of the 10 houses, the value was nowhere near HK$7 billion. 'I can't see where they got the figures from,' she said.

Brooke said it would be an expensive site to redevelop because of the need to stabilise slopes and a narrow road access, but taking the costs, interest and professional fees into consideration, the net land value would be about HK$3 billion to HK$4 billion.

Brooke said that the current antiquities legislation did not include financial considerations as a concern when determining if a place was worthy of monument status.

Foundation director Alexander Hui Yat-chuen said it would be meaningful to see the antiquities legislation tested in court, as the process would be translated into a clearer definition of what a monument should be, and how to protect the interests of owners.