Land-swap deal saves one of the oldest mansions on The Peak

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 4:12am

One of the oldest buildings on The Peak has been saved from demolition after the government and its owners agreed a land-swap deal, marking a success in the often forlorn fight to conserve the city's heritage.

The building, originally named Stonyhurst, stands at 23 Coombe Road and is a European-style mansion built by Irish soldier-turned-barrister John Joseph Francis in 1887. It holds a grade-one historic ranking from the Antiquities Advisory Board.

The grading marks not only the home's history but also the social contribution of Francis, who campaigned to end the mui tsai system of slavery and chaired a committee to fight the 1894 outbreak of bubonic plague.

The board upgraded the ranking from grade two to grade one in 2011, a year after tycoon Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa conglomerate, the co-owner of the building, applied for permission to redevelop it.

Instead, the Development Bureau has agreed to give the owners a plot of green-belt land of equivalent size opposite the house, which the government will conserve.

They will be able to build a two-storey residential building with a total floor area of almost 6,000 sq ft, subject to Town Planning Board approval.

The deal comes amid a debate over conservation, sparked in part by the demolition of Ho Tung Gardens, another home on The Peak. An offer of a land swap was rejected. The Antiquities Advisory Board is expected to launch a consultation on heritage policy this month.

Peter Li Siu-man, senior campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, welcomed the deal for Stonyhurst but said a review of policy was still needed.

"Not everyone recognises the historic values of heritage buildings and some owners may still refuse offers by the government," he said.

Given its prime location, surveyor Pang Siu-kee said he estimated the new house would be worth HK$25,000 per square feet, valuing it at HK$148 million.