Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Bernard Chan did a U-turn yesterday and withdrew his resignation, saying he wanted to unite the board and stop members from leaving over the Government Hill saga.
His decision came a week after he said he would quit to protect the board's credibility after being accused of colluding with the government when he cast the deciding vote to rate the west wing of the former government headquarters in Central as a grade two heritage building instead of grade one.
'All of the 22 board members wrote to me urging me to stay and three of them said they would quit as well,' Chan said. 'If they leave, the board's operation will be affected and its reliability will be questioned.'
He plans to serve out the rest of his term, which ends in December.
He said he would then leave even if the next administration invited him to renew his term.
At next month's meeting, the board will make a final decision on the historic grading for the three wings of the building following a public consultation.
'To address concerns [about impartiality], I will abstain from voting and expressing personal views in the next meeting,' Chan said.
He said he had arranged an informal session between the board and the Government Hill Concern Group, the major opponents to the west wing being demolished to make way for a 32-storey office tower.
Since a 2009 government announcement of the plan to redevelop the west wing, historians and conservationists have called for the 52-year-old building to be preserved to keep the integrity of the hill, which was the seat of the colonial administration dating back to the 1840s.
Chan came under fire earlier this month for agreeing that Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor should announce a revised redevelopment plan before the board met to discuss gradings.
Lam, in a press conference, categorically stated the demolition would go ahead.
When the board met, eight members voted for a grade one rating and eight for grade two, leaving Chan with the deciding vote.
The Development Bureau said yesterday that Lam welcomed Chan's latest decision, saying he had chaired the board in an impartial and transparent manner.
But Peter Li Siu-man, campaign manager for the Conservancy Association, said it was a farce that Chan and other board members had made the U-turn.
He said the grading was no longer important for Government Hill as the government had declared such a firm stance on demolition.
'Is the board accountable to the government, to the public or to an individual?' he said.
'What roles and duties are assigned to them? It is now time to discuss a review and reform of the whole system.'