Paul Chan

Ho Tung Gardens to be bulldozed; minister admits policy failure

While west wing on Government Hill will be saved, Ho Tung Gardens will not; minister says U-turn on mansion shows need for rethink

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 3:39am

The government admitted a policy failure yesterday as it decided to give up on a plan to save the historic Ho Tung Gardens on The Peak, which is held by an owner who refuses to co-operate.

It also bowed to public pressure and abandoned a scheme, put forward by the last administration, to redevelop the west wing of the former government headquarters in Central.

The secretary for development, Paul Chan Mo-po, announced the Ho Tung Gardens decision, made by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying with the Executive Council.

He said the abandonment of the plan to declare the mansion and private park a monument came down to money. "We understand that not everyone would agree with spending billions of dollars of public money on private heritage sites," Chan said.

The mansion's owner, Ho Min-kwan, rejected all proposals from the government, including a land swap. Ho, who could not be reached yesterday, wants to demolish the main building to build ten houses.

Chan said Ho had asked for compensation of HK$7 billion, while the government estimated the site's worth at HK$3 billion.

Chan said the Ho Tung Gardens case showed a need for a heritage policy review.

The Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance does not specify in what circumstances the government should acquire and preserve private heritage buildings. It does provide a mechanism for the Antiquities Authority - the secretary for development - to declare a private building as a provisional monument.

The ordinance does not encourage public participation, but the public can submit views to the Antiquities Advisory Board, which grades buildings by their historic, architectural and social value. Those given grade one are potential monuments.

The ratings given by the advisory board, however, are not necessarily adopted by the authority.

Bernard Chan, the board chairman, said: "It is time to come up with objective standards [for acquiring private heritage] and to discuss how far the public is willing to go when it comes to compensation."

Paul Chan, while declining to comment on whether the board should be reformed or given more power, said it was too early to say if the ordinance needed amendments. The government has yet to disclose the results of a study on setting up a heritage trust.

The decision to preserve the west wing along with the two other blocks of the former government headquarters was announced at the same press conference.

The Secretary for Justice, Rimsky Yuen, said that as well as his own department's offices, the building is likely to be occupied by international legal organisations, including the Hague Conference on Private International Law, which will set up its Asia Pacific office in Hong Kong.

The Government Hill Concern Group, the Bar Association and the Law Society welcomed the plan. Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit called the about-face a "victory for civil society".

Additional reporting by Simpson Cheung