Hong Kong heritage conservation is a losing battle, as Maryknoll House plan shows
As a history graduate, I read with great interest the article by Shirley Zhao on the conservation of historical buildings (“As heritage and historic buildings succumb to redevelopment, is it too late to save old Hong Kong from the wrecking ball?” July 31). By chance, I discovered last week that Maryknoll House, an 83-year-old grade one listed building in Stanley, is currently under application to be rezoned for residential purposes. The site was sold to a private property developer in 2016.
As a Maryknoll Convent School alumna, I only learned about the building from a Facebook post in an alumni group. I have never come across any fundraising appeals for the maintenance of Maryknoll House.
It is worrying that this grade one listed building, despite having been owned by a religious body (as opposed to, say, a private family), could have been sold to a property developer with so little scrutiny and accountability. A Google search yielded practically no media reports on the sale in 2016.
I personally think there is no justification for a building with such a rich history and striking architecture to be converted into just a few luxury residential flats. I am hoping against hope that it will be saved for revitalisation, as it has so much to offer to the public other than becoming private homes for the super rich (“Developer wants to turn grade one listed Hong Kong building into luxury flats”, July 21).
I also struggle with the ethics of this sale. According to an online source, the land on which Maryknoll House is built was acquired in 1931 for HK$54,500, at an annual rent of HK$1,000. The site was to become the headquarters of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Fast forward 85 years, and the site was sold to a residential property developer for HK$780 million.
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However, the fact remains that the sale had been a transaction between two consenting, private parties. Ordinary citizens would not have any sway over the eventual decision of the Town Planning Board, no matter how many comments we submitted on the proposal.
Moreover, with no statutory power over listed buildings, the government has no control over heritage conservation, especially for properties in private ownership.
Sadly, I cannot imagine the government ever passing any meaningful statutory protection for listed buildings. In this city, where land is king, money will always win over history.
Carmen Luk, Tai Wai