Hongkongers fight to save city’s only complete dragon kiln

More than 1,800 sign petition to preserve 1940s historic site amid government plans to redevelop it for public housing purposes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 10:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 March, 2018, 8:25pm

More than 1,800 people have signed a petition urging the government to preserve Hong Kong’s only complete “dragon kiln” – a tunnel-like pottery oven usually built in the mountains – as the authorities seek to redevelop part of the historic site in Tuen Mun for public housing.

The Hong Kong Dragon Kiln Concern Group, a one-year-old organisation comprising mainly ceramic artists and hobbyists, launched an online signature campaign on Tuesday urging the public to help call for preservation before the Town Planning Board closed its public consultation session that evening.

As of 4pm on Wednesday, 1,815 signatures were collected, said Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying, a pro-democracy Wan Chai district councillor and a founding member of the concern group.

The dragon kiln is a grade three historic building located near Hin Fat Lane off Castle Peak Road in Tuen Mun, and is also known as the Castle Peak Pottery Kiln.

A 0.67 hectare area to the south of Hin Fat Lane, where the kiln has been located since the 1940s, is one of five pieces of land the government has been trying to rezone for residential purposes. The plan is to build a total of 10,700 public housing flats, among which about 1,020 would be constructed on the Hin Fat Lane site in question.

Aside from the kiln, Yau Chong Home, a residential service centre for adults with mild intellectual disabilities which has been operated by the Fu Hong Society in that area for more than two decades, will have to be relocated. Families of the residents have also called on the government to preserve the premises and let them stay.

“About one-fifth of the kiln site recognised by the Antiquities Advisory Board is not regarded as part of the kiln in the maps produced by the Planning Department,” Yeung said.

“No part of a grade three historic site should be cut away … because a full preservation, which the district council also agreed to do, will need space for public facilities such as an education centre and car park.”

Tuen Mun district councillor Tam Chun-yin, of the Labour Party, said Development Bureau officials told him and the families of the residents that the centre as well as part of the kiln site were included in the redevelopment zone because a 40-storey public housing estate comprising 1,020 flats was needed.

“Some residents’ parents argued the bureau should find other land to avoid affecting Yau Chong Home,” Tam said of his meeting last Thursday.

Some residents’ parents argued the bureau should find other land to avoid affecting Yau Chong Home
Tam Chun-yin, district councillor

Tam’s fellow district councillor Lam Chung-hoi, whose constituency includes the site in question, said the whole redevelopment plan should be scrapped to save both Yau Chong Home and the Dragon Kiln.

“When planning officials first consulted the district council some four years ago, I told them that a site with a residential service centre, a grade three historic site, and an electric substation is not suitable for developing public housing,” he recalled. “But they didn’t agree.”

“There are brownfields and abandoned lands in the west and northwest of Tuen Mun. Why wouldn’t the authority consider building more flats there?”

Lam said he had met the kiln’s owner twice but no preservation plan had been put forward so far.

“Emissions from the burning might not meet environmental protection requirements if the kiln is revitalised,” he added.

Tam said the district council vetoed the redevelopment plan involving five pieces of land in Tuen Mun last September and November, citing concern about transport with an influx of over 10,000 households.

“But the Planning Department went on to submit its plans to the Town Planning Board, and nothing could stop them after the board held a public forum in April,” he added.

A spokeswoman for both the Planning Department and Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) said on Friday that the boundary of the Hin Fat Lane redevelopment site was formulated based on the findings of a preliminary development review – including a technical assessment report – conducted by CEDD-appointed consultants.

The site boundary “respects the cultural setting of the kiln and observes a quiet and landscaped environment presently surrounding the kiln”, according to the spokeswoman.

“Given that the kiln is situated outside the proposed housing site boundary at a distance of approximately 30 metres, adverse impact on the kiln from the proposed housing development is not anticipated during its construction and operation phases.”

Hong Kong’s heritage sites face continued threat despite government grading system

In the preliminary review published last September, the CEDD anticipated that “ground-borne vibration, ground settlement and tilting due to construction works” might affect the kiln’s structural integrity.

The department recommended “a detailed geotechnical assessment and a condition survey” of the kiln before the work began.

Yeung said: “So far we haven’t seen a detailed preservation plan for the kiln. Therefore we would like to urge the Town Planning Board to reconsider the plan submitted by the Planning Department to guarantee a full preservation.”

Historical buildings are given grade one, two or three status by the Antiquities Advisory Board based on their heritage value, with grade three being the lowest. But this does not prevent the sites being demolished.

According to the current definition of historic site grading, “alternative means” can be considered for a grade three site if preservation is not practicable.

Yeung said she would like to draw more public attention to the site and try to persuade the antiquities board to upgrade the kiln so that more stringent preservation requirements could be applied.

According to the board, the kiln was constructed in the 1940s. Built out of brick, the kiln has a fire chamber as long as about 20 metres lying along an upward slope. The design and the shape are what gave it the name “dragon kiln”.

Commercial production at the kiln trailed off by the 1970s, and artistic production ceased in 1982.