Hong Kong has the resources – but apparently not the expertise – to preserve historic buildings

Collapse of a structure at the 150-year-old Central Police Station shows the need for greater efforts in conserving our built heritage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 May, 2016, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 May, 2016, 11:05pm

Hong Kong’s efforts to preserve historic monuments suffered a serious setback after a building under renovation at the former Central Police Station compound on Hollywood Road caved in on Sunday. The incident has not only raised uncertainties over the city’s flagship conservation project, it has also called into question our professional expertise in preserving built heritage.

Having withstood the test of time for more than 150 years, the compound was declared a statutory monument in 1995 and was due to be converted into a performance and arts venue later this year. Sadly, part of the former staff quarters collapsed on Sunday evening.

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The public is entitled to ask whether the project has been carried out with due diligence and professionalism. According to a government official at the scene, a safety inspection was carried out a month ago. The Jockey Club, which is responsible for the project, is still unable to shed light on the cause of the accident. An executive only said that reinforcement work was being carried out at the staff quarters, but there wasn’t any work going on when the accident happened. The response is hardly reassuring.

Ensuring the structural safety of the damaged building and other structures within the compound has to be the priority. The Jockey Club and its contractors should also give a full account of the accident and try to minimise the delays to the project that may arise. The government also has to play a more active role in monitoring the structural safety of heritage buildings.

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The city is notorious for its strong appetite for building ever taller skyscrapers, with many old buildings flattened in no time to make way for new development. Ironically, we are still on a steep learning curve when it comes to preserving our past. The Jockey Club should have the resources to lead the project. But whether we have the expertise is another matter. The accident reflects badly on our conservation efforts.