Government encouraged to retain more heritage buildings and develop plans to better use these sites in the long term Conservationists have urged the government to modify its policies on preserving heritage buildings following the decision last week to officially recognise Dragon Garden in Sham Tseng as a historic building after a three-month battle to save it from developers. They have called on the government to come up with a more comprehensive conservation policy rather than one which covers just a select number of sites. Meanwhile, developers and surveyors have suggested Hong Kong follow the example of Singapore and encourage private property owners to retain historic buildings. Even though the government has encouraged and restricted developers to protect heritage buildings after outcry from the public, it did not have any plans on how to better utilise the heritage assets in the long term, they said. People power has saved a number of historic buildings such as the Central Police Station. One of the latest campaigns is Wan Chai Market. Calls for the building to be preserved are growing even though the property has been sold to Chinese Estates Holdings for residential development. Dragon Garden, which was accorded 'grade two' historic status by the Antiquities Advisory Board, is an eight-hectare waterfront site on Castle Peak Road built in the late 1950s by tycoon Lee Iu-cheung. The property was reported to have been sold for HK$130 million to a buyer linked with Sun Hung Kai Properties. But the developer denied this. Dragon Garden was eventually bought by a member of the Lee family. 'The main problem in Hong Kong is we don't have a conservation policy,' said Nicholas Brooke, chairman of Professional Property Services. As a result, many buildings after being officially recognised as 'historic' are subsequently left idled for years because the government has no plans on how to develop them. For example, Cheung Kong (Holdings) has preserved the main building of Haw Par Mansion after acquiring the Tiger Balms Garden site in Tai Hang for its luxury residential project the Legend in 2001. But the development of the main building remains uncertain. SHKP has preserved the red-brick building at Shanghai Street after developing its 8 Waterloo Road residential project in Yau Ma Tei. The building was handed over to the government in 2004, however its remains vacant today. Lanbase Surveyors director Chan Cheong-kit said: 'For saving heritages from demolition, government could introduce Letter B land exchange entitlements to compensate private owners.' The owners could sell Letter B to developers who could use the entitlements to pay for land premiums and government rent. Nam Fung Development managing director Donald Choi Wun-hing said developers' involvement would bring new life to historic buildings. For instance, Nam Fung has turned the 113-year-old London Mission Building into a club house for its residential project at 80 Robinson Road, Mid-Levels. 'The conservation cost of the old building is higher than others similar project. But it was welcome by residents as it creates a unique atmosphere,' Mr Choi said. The idea follows the example of Singapore where the Urban Redevelopment Authority is responsible for the conservation of buildings. 'We encourage private owners to preserve heritage buildings through taking on a pilot restoration project, promoting quality restoration through an annual award, introducing various waivers and more flexible guidelines,' a spokeswoman at the authority said. The authority has a voluntary conservation scheme where building owners can volunteer their own heritage buildings for conservation. The authority would also sell historic buildings to private groups. It will sell nine parcels of unrestored conservation shophouses, zoned for commercial use, next month. Margaret Brooke, chief executive of Professional Property Services, who recently founded concern group, Heritage Hong Kong, said the government should set up an independent statutory foundation to rescue historic buildings. The idea follows the concept of The National Trust in Britain. The National Trust is independent of the government but relies heavily on membership fees, donations, legacies and revenue raised from its commercial operations such as restaurants, shops and holiday cottages. The trust protects and opens to the public more than 300 historic houses and gardens. 'Many people and institutions are willing to donate for the protection of heritage buildings. Under the system, the government could give direction on preserving heritage to the trust. The committee of the trust will decide the development concept of the buildings, hire experts to carry out the schemes and look after the properties,' she said.