Report on conservation of HK's historic buildings slammed over lack of access

As board seeks 'balance' between preservation and rights of subsidised owners, conservation body criticises lack of mandatory public access

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 3:08am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 1:25pm

More incentives will be offered to private owners of historic buildings to encourage their conservation, but no firm measures will be introduced against demolition under new recommendations by the Antiquities Advisory Board.

As the board concluded its review on the city's policy on built heritage, it said it hoped to strike a balance between preservation and private property rights.

But a conservation group criticised the report for failing to suggest any real policy change.

The report, published online yesterday after two months of public consultation last year, suggested that the government should make more use of land exchange to save historic buildings from redevelopment, as in the 2008 case of King Yin Lei mansion in Mid-Levels.

It also proposed that plot ratios could be relaxed to allow more room for development on the sites while retaining the buildings, as with the Cheung Chau Theatre, built in 1931.

But the board stopped short of recommending extension of the current legal protection on declared monuments to graded historic buildings.

"The issue was hotly debated … our concern was that legislation might deprive owners of private property rights," said board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo.

"Since the public did not show a clear preference, we hoped enough carrots could be provided for owners to conserve their buildings so that it would not be necessary to use sticks."

In line with a government-commissioned consultancy report in 2011, the board recommended that a new fund be established to promote education, research and revitalisation of historic buildings. It did not estimate how much money was needed and left the matter for the government to work out.

Although supporting the continuous subsidies for owners to maintain their historic buildings, the board said public access should not be obligatory.

"If we make it a prerequisite, some owners might say they would just tear [the buildings] down," Lam said, adding that residences were of particular concern.

But Peter Li Siu-man, senior campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, said the board's refusal to make public access mandatory was a step back from the government's existing subsidy scheme.

"We are not asking the owners to allow people to walk in at any time, but can there at least be some open days or visits by appointments? They can't just receive public money without contributing anything," he said.

He dismissed the ideas in the report as "nothing new" and what the government had already been doing. "It hasn't come up with any solution to prevent more private historic buildings being destroyed," he said.

The report was unveiled as the board began another two-year term. Nineteen members, including Lam, were reappointed by the government yesterday, while outspoken four-year member Tim Ko Tim-keung and three others who had served for six years left.

Construction company Kum Shing Group executive director Rex Wong Siu-han, Hong Kong Dance Company director Theresa Ng Choi-yuk and Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service executive director Annissa Lui Wai-ling were all appointed as new members.