Dragon Garden facelift budget raised to HK$50m

Quinton Chan

Authorities have significantly increased the budget for upgrading the historic Dragon Garden amid the recent controversy over heritage conservation, according to the garden's owner.

Leisure and Cultural Services Department officials are now planning to spend about HK$50 million to give the garden a facelift before opening it to the public, up from the original HK$15 million.

The officials met owner Lee Shiu last week to discuss how to preserve the 8-hectare waterfront site on Castle Peak Road. Mr Lee became sole owner of the garden after buying out family members for HK$100 million following a three-month battle to save it from developers last year.

The garden, built in the late 1950s by his father - late tycoon Lee Iu-cheung - was accorded 'grade two' historic status by the Antiquities Advisory Board in October. The businessman is planning to donate the site to the public.

Mr Lee's wife, Jenny Lee Mui Yee-ching, said both sides were now working out a detailed renovation plan. 'Officials originally said they only had HK$15 million to spend on the garden,' she said. 'We thought this was not enough and my husband even offered to lend the government some money to renovate the garden.

'Then the officials came back and said they had a bigger budget. I think this may have something to do with the Star Ferry controversy. They are very sincere and want to demonstrate to us that they will preserve the garden well.'

Mrs Lee said her husband had appointed an architect to draw up plans for the government. 'There is a lot of work to be done,' she said. 'We have to repair slopes, build washrooms for visitors and possibly convert the swimming pool into a water fountain. The officials have agreed to install displays explaining the contribution of my father-in-law and other philanthropists during the 1950s and 60s.'

But Mrs Lee said she and her husband believed the garden should be opened to the public by appointment only: 'It was designed as a private garden and may not be able to hold lots of people at the same time. We have to discuss this further with officials.'

Lee Iu-cheung's granddaughter Cynthia Lee Hong-yee, who launched the campaign to save the garden, said a group of academics had proposed conducting a conservation study on the garden.

'A proper conservation study has to be done before any construction work is launched,' she said. 'This is not just about renovation - it is about preserving the garden in the most appropriate way.'