Owners say they would consider nearby site, but officials don't seem interested The owners of the 70-year-old Bauhaus-style Wan Chai Market have hinted they are prepared to discuss with the government a transfer of development rights to save the historic building from demolition. 'If the government approaches us, we will investigate the proposal,' a source at Chinese Estates Holdings said. 'But we cannot make a decision alone because the project is jointly owned by us and the Urban Renewal Authority. We will have to discuss this with the authority.' It is the first time anyone from the developer, run by the Lau brothers, has spoken on the issue since the campaign to save the market started two years ago. Campaigners welcomed the developer's offer and hoped the government would react positively. The idea, if it materialises, would be a breakthrough in the battle to save the city's historic buildings from demolition, as there is no mechanism to deal with private ownership of such buildings. The government had previously suggested addressing the issue by allowing the transfer of development rights, by which owners would be granted the rights of other sites in return for relinquishing rights to a heritage zone. However, the consultation paper on heritage conservation, which was released in February 2004, failed to mention this option. The second-stage consultation promised by Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping early last year has not materialised. The bureau says it is still under review. Ada Wong Ying-kay, chairwoman of the Wan Chai District Council, said the government and the authority could consider exchanging the market site for a vacant one at a corner of Stone Nullah Lane facing the market building. Land formation of the site, owned by the authority, has been completed so it is ready for construction. 'It would be a win-win situation. We could keep the historic market. The developer would have a site to build what it wants,' Ms Wong said. Betty Ho Siu-fong, chairwoman of the Conservancy Association, supported the suggestion. 'We have been advocating land exchange for a decade. It is time for the government to act.' The three-storey market building, constructed in 1937 on the corner of Wan Chai Road and Queen's Road East, is believed to be one of only two well-preserved markets in the Bauhaus style left in the world. The other one is in Phnom Penh. Redevelopment to turn the market area into a commercial and residential complex was first planned by the then Land Development Corporation in 1991. In 1997, the corporation formed a joint venture with Chinese Estates Holdings to redevelop the site. The project comprises the already completed Zenith group of buildings. As the redevelopment required destruction of a market, the developer was required to build a new marketplace for affected vendors. A tentative schedule suggests traders will start moving out in June. Meanwhile, the developer recently paid the Lands Department a HK$304.41 million land premium for the site, taking it one step closer to beginning construction. But officials are not keen to discuss the transfer proposal with the developers. The Home Affairs Bureau said: 'The development has gone through many stages; it is a lands issue now. Also the Antiquities and Monuments Office has decided the building does not deserve preservation.' The Lands Department said no one had approached it to discuss transfer of development rights. The Urban Renewal Authority declined to comment.