The government has advised the Town Planning Board to approve two new buildings at the Central Police Station compound even though the sites could contain historic remains.
The Planning Department, in a paper prepared for a meeting of the board today, says it has 'no objection' to the Jockey Club building two new wings at the heritage site on Hollywood Road.
The buildings, to house an art gallery, restaurants, public viewing area and plant facilities, are to be built on the existing general office and laundry block of Victoria Prison.
The two sites are among eight identified in January by an environmental impact assessment as having archaeological potential. Where the office stood had once been a workshed for the governor's house, stables, cookhouses and coolies' quarters, and the assessment said traces of the past could possibly be found.
After receiving the assessment report, the club instituted an archaeological investigation of the eight sites by a consultant, whose report is yet to be finalised. Few details have been released, except for a photo of one of the surveyed spots showing foundations of a police station toilet.
The Planning Department decided not to wait for the archaeological report and advised board members to approve the project. The department said the club had informed it that preliminary findings indicated there were unlikely to be any antiquities under the planned buildings.
'In the event that archaeological materials are found during the removal of the existing buildings or subsequent archaeological monitoring during excavation, appropriate mitigation measures will be recommended,' it said.
'It is suggested to advise the applicant that a fresh application would be required for the proposed new development should there be any significant architectural features and artefacts discovered necessitating major changes to the current scheme.'
But such a requirement is only listed as an 'advisory clause', rather than a binding 'approval condition'.
Approval for the project has already been questioned because the director of environmental protection issued a work permit without waiting for the archaeological report. A committee vetting the impact report was also found not to have met to discuss the report. Members only dealt with it 'by circulation'.
The Central and Western Concern Group wrote to the board yesterday asking it to defer the meeting. 'We believe the board should only consider the scheme after the Jockey Club releases the archaeological report and comprehensive mitigation measures... They must be submitted for public comment and discussion by relevant... bodies,' convenor Katty Law Ngar-ning said.