To say that Hong Kong’s heritage conservation policy is little more than window dressing is not an overstatement. Even though there exists a grading system of some sort to enhance protection, the 1,400 or so “historic buildings” can still be bulldozed if their owners so wish. A rare pre-war Chinese tenement block is yet another sad example of our precious heritage falling victim to the city’s insatiable appetite for new development and a half-hearted conservation mechanism. The 86-year-old walk-up in Sham Shui Po is one of the few tong lau-style corner buildings left. With a curved facade and a Chinese-style loggia overhanging the pavement, the three-storey block earned a grade two status in the initial assessment in 2009, which means it is worthy of efforts to “selectively preserve” the site because of its “special merit”. Regrettably, it has been turned into subdivided flats for the poor – a residential phenomenon that puts this affluent city to shame. Worse, just when its grading was officially confirmed after a decade, the office in charge of heritage conservation revealed the owner of the building had applied for demolition for redevelopment. More ironically, some government heritage advisers are convinced that a higher grade is unwarranted, referring to its condition being inferior to those of Lui Seng Chun, a grade one conservation showpiece in the neighbourhood. They are probably right from an expert’s perspective, but the decision to keep the lower grade in spite of demolition may be misunderstood as acquiescence. Indeed, the building may not be spared the wrecker’s ball even with a grade one assessment, as only declared monuments are protected under the existing mechanism. Even though officials are trying to liaise with the owner for conservation options, the prospects do not look good. Failure to preserve a Wan Chai pawnshop in the same style four years ago is a sad reminder of the inadequacies of the current policy. It has been suggested the building could be saved by buying and converting it into community facilities, as part of the government’s HK$20 billion budget plan to acquire 60 private properties for use as welfare centres. The proposal should be considered.