Give heritage building revitalisation projects the time and support they need
The struggle between commercial viability and preserving history is a difficult one for the government and its partners, but one that can be won with the right environment
Officially, Hong Kong has only a little over 1,440 heritage buildings and historic monuments left. This is a sad reality for an international city with an East-meets-West history of more than a century. It is important that concerted efforts be made not just to preserve them, but also put them to good public use whenever possible.
Credit goes to the government for offering some old premises a new lease of life under the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership scheme. So far, eight of the 15 projects approved are already operating, costing taxpayers HK$1.7 billion.
Inevitably, there are challenges to overcome. The remote location of some sites makes public access and enjoyment difficult. The rules attached to the use of public funds means operations are also constrained. Not all projects can, therefore, ultimately become self-financing. As confirmed by the development chief, more than one operatoris seeking help from the government. In the case of the Fong Yuen Study Hall in Ma Wan, the village school-turned-Chinese culture centre is reportedly considering giving up the site due to low attendance.
The situation speaks volumes for the difficulties in heritage conservation. The government and project operators often find themselves struggling between commercial viability and preserving history. This is understandable in a city where money always comes first. The use of taxpayers’ money makes sustainability and accountability vitally important. That explains why revitalised projects are required to be up and running on their own after two years of government subsidies.
The latest batch opened for application includes an old wet market and three former police and military buildings. While the onus remains on the bidders to come up with well-thought-out proposals for consideration, the government can help by reviewing the existing rules to ensure that the projects are given sufficient time and support to grow. Hopefully, it will encourage more operators with bright ideas to come forward.