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A glass roof has been built over the reservoir. Photo: Martin Chan

Century-old underground reservoir in Hong Kong gets new glass roof, internal lighting and other facilities ahead of limited public opening

  • Fate of long-forgotten reservoir sparked a public outcry last December after its imminent demolition became known
  • Temporary reinforcement, as well as protection and improvement works, of structure started at beginning of year, government says

A glass roof and other new structures have been built at a century-old underground reservoir discovered in Shek Kip Mei’s “Bishop Hill” late last year, with the Hong Kong government expected to reopen the site for limited public visits soon.

Two sets of stairs have also been constructed on the hilltop leading up to the reservoir. Some of the surrounding land has been covered with artificial grass while a white path runs round part of the site, which remains sealed off to the public, aerial photos taken by the Post on Thursday show.

The fate of the reservoir, forgotten for decades, sparked a public outcry last December after its imminent demolition became known. The government made a U-turn after pressure to conserve the structure, which features impressive columns and soaring arches.

Concrete arches and brick columns are a feature of the underground reservoir. Photo: Winson Wong

Temporary reinforcement of the reservoir, as well as protection and improvement works, started at the beginning of the year, the Water Supplies Department said. Work to support sections of the concrete ceiling, brick arches and other structural parts was carried out.

The roof was built to protect exposed parts of the reservoir from the weather, while internal lighting, ventilation and access facilities were also being added to prepare for a limited public opening, a department spokesman added.

“The above project does not involve changes to the original structure of the service reservoir,” the spokesman said.

Century-old Hong Kong reservoir proposed to be made a grade one historic building

The department also sought technical advice from the Antiquities and Monuments Office on the heritage conservation aspects of the project. The Development Bureau will conduct more research for the site’s long-term conservation and revitalisation.

Officials in May told lawmakers a restricted opening was targeted “within this year” after structural safety checks, as well as strengthening and improvement works, were done.

The bureau will look into the long-term options of conserving and revitalising the site for the public’s enjoyment.

An aerial view of Bishop Hill. Photo: Martin Chan

But Ramon Yuen Hoi-man, a Sham Shui Po district councillor, said the council was not told about these changes. He said the district council, which covers Shek Kip Mei, had invited comments from the public, but was unable to proceed as no funding was granted to conduct activities or research for the suggestions received.

“District councillors cannot scrutinise funding now. It’s like our proposals are left to die,” Yuen said.

In October, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government was considering scrapping district councils’ power to approve funding for local projects because many members, from the opposition camp, were “unpatriotic”.


Demolition of Hong Kong old reservoir halted after calls for heritage assessment

Demolition of Hong Kong old reservoir halted after calls for heritage assessment

Meanwhile, Lee Ho-yin, director of the University of Hong Kong’s architectural conservation programmes, said he believed the modifications would “add richness” to the site.

He said the glass canopy, which sits over a large excavation made during the initial demolition, showed the government “was not trying to cover up and was telling a fuller story of how they had accidentally opened it up”.

Work is continuing at the Bishop Hill site. Photo: Martin Chan

Heritage officials apologised for the “insensitivity” of the demolition plan last year – blaming miscommunication among staff and waterworks engineers who referred to the structure as “a water tank” – and vowed to conserve the site and be open to public feedback.

The reservoir was then accorded grade one historic status, the second-highest designation on the scale after monument status.

Why a hilltop heritage site has captured Hongkongers’ imagination

The reservoir dates from August 1904, when it was built as part of the Kowloon Waterworks Gravitation Scheme to increase water supply for the Kowloon peninsula’s expanding population. The structure has 100 stone columns and brick arches, and measures 47 metres in diameter with a depth of seven metres. It has not been used since the 1970s.

Experts said the construction technology used in the reservoir hearkened back to the Roman empire.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Reservoir gets ready for flow of visitors