Hong Kong's cultural heritage will be dealt a fresh blow if officials allow the demolition of an 80-year-old Italian-style house in Wan Chai to make way for a high-rise housing block, residents and critics warned yesterday. A hearing by the Town Planning Board today will decide whether to allow the three-storey-building at 64 Kennedy Road to be replaced with a 20-storey residential block. The Antiquities and Monuments Office has lodged an objection with the board against the rezoning plan. In a letter to the residents, the office wrote: 'Owing to the well-known historic and aesthetic significance of the building, we have shown our strong objection to the proposed amendment to the Town Planning Board by explaining the various reasons why it is worth conserving. 'In view of the wide objections raised by the public, we requested that the board reconsider preserving the building.' According to the Conservancy Association, the building's historical significance is reflected by its Italian Renaissance style and features such as Doric columns and an art deco-style motif on its balcony railings. However, the association said the building, built in about 1924, had not yet been declared a monument because it was privately owned. The building is owned by the Ngan family, one of Hong Kong's richest. They are the former owners of China Motor Bus, which was taken over by First Bus in September 1998. Rezoning would mean that the 0.26-hectare site could be redeveloped into a 20-storey residential complex. Alice Chan, who has been living in the neighbourhood for more than 20 years, said she had collected more than 600 signatures from neighbours opposed to the rezoning. The signatures were sent to the board early last month. 'When Hong Kong is promoting tourism, the government should try its best to conserve all buildings with historical value,' she said. 'If the rezoning plan is approved, it would set a bad example for developers to demolish more buildings with historic value for redevelopment.' Ms Chan, who will raise her objection in today's town planning hearing, also said any redevelopment of the site would damage the environment. William Meacham, an archaeologist and honorary research fellow of the University of Hong Kong's Centre of Asian Studies, accused the government of being soft on property owners when historic buildings were threatened. 'The government has never formulated a reasonable and enforceable policy. They have the power, but they just fail to use it,' he said. 'The government always goes to the owners trying to persuade them [to keep the building] instead of declaring the buildings as historical monuments, and having them properly protected by law. Obviously what is needed [is] a forceful policy.'