Antiquities board did not act over Ho Tung Gardens

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 2:53am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 5:20pm

The destruction of Ho Tung Gardens was extremely regrettable, solely for the profit of one person.

Every time there has been a significant failure by the government to preserve Hong Kong's heritage, a "consultation" or "policy review" is announced.

Hardly anything changes except an increase in bureaucracy.

Not only did the government fail but also the community at large. Exco seems to have taken the cowardly line of least resistance in reversing the chief secretary's declared intention to preserve Ho Tung Gardens and redevelop the West Wing office block.

The Antiquities Advisory Board also failed. It sat by while this site with the highest possible rating was demolished.

I wrote to every board member, urging them to hold a special meeting to consider a viable method that would preserve the gardens with no cost to public coffers.

No member replied, the chairman did not call a special meeting, and the board did not lift a finger to avert disaster. Nor did any political party.

I wrote to every lawmaker of the Civic Party and Liberal Party, asking them to raise the issue in Legco, but not one replied.

The Central and Western District Council subcommittee did discuss the issue, but the comments of some of the council members were absurd, for example, "resumption would be snatching away someone's private property" and "it would cost billions of dollars that would be better spent on the underprivileged".

In an amazing display of rubber-stamping, a simple motion to urge the government to preserve the gardens failed by 14 to four. Only the pan-democrats on the council voted in favour.

Finally, several experts in the community had written that Ho Tung Gardens should be preserved, and they ranked it higher than King Yin Lei Mansion. But none of these experts came out to criticise the Exco decision or agreed to meet with the district council.

By contrast, the only time that the community and Antiquities Advisory Board members really did fight for a heritage site, the Ohel Leah Synagogue on Robinson Road was preserved. This was achieved despite an alignment of government and the board chairman in favour of demolition.

Even privately-owned heritage sites can be preserved, but only if people who care take vigorous action.

By their passivity, Ho Tung Gardens was lost not only for the present community, but all future generations.

William Meacham, Yau Ma Tei