Mong Kok residents protested yesterday against a redevelopment plan for CLP Power's headquarters, which would see part of the historic building knocked down to make way for residential blocks.
Critics said the plan was the latest example of how developers launched questionable building projects on the pretence of heritage conservation.
The plan will see part of the grade one historical building along Argyle Street in Kowloon demolished to build three 25-storey apartment buildings on top of a four-storey podium and car park.
'No place in the world will people allow these ugly walled buildings erected right over or next to the historical building,' said Green Sense president Roy Tam Hoi-pong, who joined more than 20 residents in yesterday's rally. 'This is not a balance between conservation and development, as developers say.'
What remains of the 70-year-old structure, including the clock tower built in 1940, will be preserved and will house an electricity museum and a Kadoorie family archive.
Residents from Yee On Court across the CLP building said they were worried the construction of apartment blocks would create a 'walled' effect, trapping air pollution and generating more noise.
They said they did not know about the project until a day before the deadline for filing an objection to the Town Planning Board.
'We had wrongly believed that the plan was acceptable because senior officials came out to support this,' said a representative of the residents. 'When we found out about the details, we knew that it would have great impact in our lives.'
A CLP spokesman defended the plan, saying it met guidelines for sustainable building design.
'The current plan has already strived to strike a balance between the community's aspirations for heritage conservation and shareholder interest,' he said.
'The three buildings are carefully designed, allowing natural ventilation and sunlight to penetrate into their adjacent neighbourhood. The air space above the clock tower also provides a wide breezeway.'
Mary Melville, an urban planning activist who supported the protesters, said it would be a 'sin' for CLP Power to knock down a structure that had been well preserved and was 'integral to the historical clock tower'.
She said the company should reconsider its use, such as converting it into a home for the elderly.
Tam, an outspoken urban planning activist, said it was a pity to see unhealthy developments disguised as conservation efforts. He cited The Legend luxury estate in Tai Hang, which was built years ago and necessitated the demolition of part of the historic Tiger Balm Garden, and the 1930s Bauhaus-style Wan Chai Market, on which the One Wan Chai project is being built.
But Cheung Kong (Holdings), which built The Legend, did pay to preserve part of the garden.
Tam said he found inconsistencies in the government's heritage conservation policy. He cited the case of Ho Tung Gardens, a mansion on The Peak, which he said could be saved with a land swap while at the other times significant historical structures were allowed to be 'raped' by property developers.
CLP, Hong Kong's largest electric company, originally proposed to build a single 156-metre-tall residential block that almost doubled the 80-metre height limit for the site in 2001. It was forced to modify the development plan after the headquarters was graded as a historic building.
To make up for height losses, the proposed building was split into three interconnected blocks. This means CLP has to seek the planning board's approval for relaxing height limits and plot rations this Friday.
It is expected that the power company could fetch up to HK$3 billion in the redevelopment project.