Public denied access to Pok Fu Lam's Jessville mansion

Renaissance-style mansion will not be open to public as previously hoped, as land premiums push owner to turn site into apartments

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 4:25am

Despite earlier efforts, the historic, 80-year-old Pok Fu Lam mansion Jessville will not be opened to the public, after high land premiums forced the building's owner to revise redevelopment plans.

The Italian Renaissance-style house, which briefly held "proposed monument" status, was supposed to be turned into a clubhouse for two high-rise residential towers to be built on adjacent land. The government approved this plan on the condition that the mansion is opened to visitors. The owner agreed to allow 50 visitors each month, by appointment.

But the Development Bureau confirmed yesterday that the owner, due to commercial considerations, submitted a new proposal for just one 17-storey residential block - scrapping a second, 21-storey tower - and reducing the number of flats from 72 to 33 units.

The bureau said it would consult the district council on the new plan next Monday.

The mansion will be converted into four apartments, which could be rented out, making visits by the public impossible.

"However, a viewing platform will be provided outside the property to allow the public to appreciate the exterior of the mansion," said a source close to the owner.

The source said the sudden change of plans happened following unsuccessful land premium negotiations with the Lands Department. "The land premium [for extra flats] is too high," the source said.

The Town Planning Board approved the proposal for two residential towers in 2009. As a compromise to preserve the mansion, the government also lifted the Pok Fu Lam Moratorium on new land sales and lease modifications for more intensive development in the district.

The mansion was built by barrister and magistrate William Ngar Tse Thomas Tam, a leading society figure. It was declared a proposed monument in 2007 but this status was later denied.

Jessville currently holds grade-three historic status, which means it can be torn down by the owner.

But Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Bernard Chan said: "It should allow public usage if it has taken an advantage from the moratorium. Is a viewing platform good enough? Probably not."

He vowed to take up the matter in their next board meeting.

Fellow board member Andrew Lam Siu-lo fears the owner will ultimately demolish the mansion if government negotiations break down.

Conservancy Association senior campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man said the government should not let the owner break his promise.

A Planning Department spokeswoman said the owner's revised plan did not need new approval as it did not require any change to the zoning plan.