Hong Kong officials in talks with owners of historic Red House amid demolition fears

Heritage body also wants to discuss ways of protecting the building, believed to have been a base for revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 11:00pm

Proposals to save a historic house believed to have served as a secret base for Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen have been raised with its owners.

The Development Bureau took the step after 300 people, fearing the Red House in Tuen Mun was in danger of demolition, protested on Sunday.

“[We have suggested] exploring preservation proposals with the owner. The government will follow up proactively,” a bureau spokesman said on Tuesday.

Hong Kong lawmaker seeks to buy time to prevent demolition of historic Red House in Tuen Mun

The bureau did not elaborate on what the preservation proposals entailed.

In previous cases, the government has been able to save important buildings from being demolished by offering compensation, paying maintenance fees, or by giving development concessions or land swaps.

The controversy stems from a widely held belief the two-storey house served as a base for republican revolutionaries in their plot to overthrow the Qing dynasty in 1911.

Lawmakers who visited the site last week said parts of a wall surrounding the Red House were torn down and the water supply to residents facing eviction had been halted.

Buildings Department staff have inspected the site daily to monitor the condition of the property. It confirmed there were no ongoing alterations or demolition work, which would require government approval, affecting the main building.

“From our record, the Buildings Department has not received any demolition plan for Hung Lau [Red House], or application to commence demolition,” the spokesman said.

The fact that residents are being evicted is already sending a message to the public
Andrew Lam Siu-lo, Antiquities Advisory Board

A special meeting between the government and the Antiquities Advisory Board, a statutory body that oversees heritage sites and monuments, was being arranged, board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo said.

“Although the walls outside the Red House do not fall within the site’s graded area, the fact that parts of it have been torn down and residents are being evicted is already sending a message to the public,” Lam said.

“We will need to discuss whether we should consider any further steps, which could also include whether there is a need to declare it as a ‘proposed monument’.”

In 2009 the Antiquities and Monuments Office classified the site a grade one historic building – the highest in a three-tier system, but it alone does not confer statutory protection.

The Development Bureau may declare any grade one building a “proposed monument” if it is under threat of demolition or renovation works that threaten its the heritage value. If such a declaration is made, works cannot be carried out on the premises for a year.

Peter Chiu Wen-chien, who was at the protest on Sunday, said he hoped the government could turn the house into a museum of modern Chinese history.

“It would be a pity if such a part of our history disappeared. Hong Kong should feel honoured that it played such a role,” Chiu said.