Expansionist Anglicans channel HK spirit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2012, 12:00am

When developers tear down heritage sites, they are out to make a buck. But when churches do the same, behold, they are doing God's work. So shut up.

Quick, take a stroll down Nathan Road for a last glimpse of the landmark stone wall, one of the last traces of old Tsim Sha Tsui, which has fronted the Anglican St Andrew's Church, itself a heritage building, for more than a century. The wall is being demolished as you read these words, to make way for a HK$155 million underground development, including an 850-seat auditorium, amphitheatre, coffee shop and bookshop - it sounds like a big shopping mall for the faithful! This was despite protests from heritage and conservation experts, and a counterproposal from the government. Well, so much for serving the public and listening to the people!

Implausibly, the church's vicar, the Reverend John Menear, claimed the church had never received any counterproposal in writing. The Development Bureau said the Antiquities and Monuments Office submitted the documents in April last year for the church's consideration, but never heard anything back. Say no more, reverend, I get it now.

In true Hong Kong spirit, the Anglican Church's appetite for property expansion is insatiable. It wanted to turn its site in Jardine's Lookout into a giant complex for a seminary, hostel, kindergarten and administrative offices. But it is now stalling because neighbours, not unreasonably, have objected.

It is now evicting Hong Kong Central Hospital from its site on Lower Albert Road. In its place, the church wants to build its own hospital and offices. In 2010, it lost a High Court case to the Inland Revenue Department and was ordered to pay HK$180 million in tax on a joint development that turned a Tai Po site into a luxury residential area. It is appealing the judgment.

Meanwhile, its social service arm, St James' Settlement, is proceeding apace to build a giant headquarters in Kennedy Road, Wan Chai, despite neighbours' objections.

The other churches are in a similar land-grabbing mode, but that's for another column.