The Antiquities Advisory Board yesterday refused to consider an interpretation of a law which could have saved Ho Tung Gardens.
The board concluded it would do nothing more to declare the Peak mansion a monument, as the Executive Council had made a final decision it did not want to compensate the owner, who would claim HK$7 billion for loss of her redevelopment right.
However, archaeologist and former board member William Meacham had offered to present, in a formal board meeting, a legal opinion on the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, which argued the government need not pay huge sums as compensation.
Meacham obtained the legal opinion from a queen's counsel in 1987 when he sought a judicial review to save a historic synagogue on Robinson Road.
The counsel wrote the 1976 ordinance was "badly drafted" and gave "no right of compensation, at all".
It merely authorised the government to pay compensation in certain circumstances, such as when the owner suffered financial losses due to government actions of inspecting, repairing and excavating the site. Board chairman Bernard Chan, chairing his last meeting, turned down the offer, saying he was concerned about the precedent such advice would set for private property rights.
"If the legal opinion is accepted, thousands of people will take it to the streets," he said.
Ho Tung Gardens was built by late tycoon Robert Hotung in 1927. His granddaughter, the current owner, has turned down proposals to save it and insisted on redeveloping the site.
Meacham called the board's decision an "absolute disgrace". "To say that the preservation of the villa would cost billions of dollars is misleading," he said.
Meanwhile, the board accorded a grade one status to the West Wing of the former Central Government Offices, after the government scrapped a plan to knock it down for a new high rise.
Eight members voted for grade two status and 12 for grade one. Three members absent from the last meeting in June cast a vote on grade one yesterday, reversing the last result, for a grade two listing. A grade one site has the potential to become a monument.