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Members of the public can enjoy free guided tours at the service reservoir in Bishop Hill from December 15. Photo: Winson Wong

Century-old underground reservoir in Hong Kong open for free guided tours from December 15 for 6 months

  • Tours at underground reservoir in Bishop Hill at Shek Kip Mei will run until June 14 next year and last 90 minutes each, with English sessions held every Saturday
  • Visitors urged to be respectful and considerate so as to not damage any artefacts

A century-old underground reservoir in Hong Kong that was saved from demolition will be open for free guided tours from mid-December to allow residents to view the massive arched structure up close.

The service reservoir, located at Bishop Hill at Shek Kip Mei, will be open for six months after the completion of a HK$20 million (US$2.6 million) preliminary restoration.

Visitors can also share their views through a survey on the reservoir’s long-term revitalisation, according to officials.

The exposed section of the reservoir is protected by a glass roof. Photo: Martin Chan

“The public can appreciate the architectural designs engineered more than a hundred years ago,” said Philip Chung Wing-kee, assistant director of water supplies/urban at the Water Supplies Department. “The government, at this stage, is open for future plans. We don’t have any firm idea at the moment, but we will conduct public consultations and research to see what are the best options to restore and revitalise the [reservoir].”

Individual and group tours at the heritage site, with its massive stone and brick arches, will tentatively run daily from December 15 to June 14, 2022. Each session will last 90 minutes and accommodate up to 14 people, including the guides and assistants.

A total of 1,000 people will be allowed entry to view the reservoir every month, but the programmes may be adjusted depending on public response and risk. Visitors can register for the tours on the department’s website from 9am on December 1. English sessions will be conducted every Saturday.

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Chung said there would not be many restrictions to view the site, but urged people to be respectful and considerate so as to not damage any artefacts.

“In Hong Kong, there are quite a number of grade one buildings all over the city, and there are not many particular measures we have to take [to protect them],” Chung said. “We are not prepared to fence off the [artefacts]. I think people will admire the history better when they go near them.”

The reservoir has a glass roof installed to protect the exposed part from rain and wind. Visitors can enter through the stairs constructed on the hilltop leading up to the reservoir and admire it from different heights.

Ventilation systems, elevated platforms, low ultraviolet lighting and emergency exits have also been installed inside the reservoir to enhance safety and the visual experience for the public.

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Chung advised against fully restoring the reservoir to its original state as this would affect how the public could view the site.

“Traditionally, because the service reservoir is a confined space, it may not be user-friendly for visitors to go in and look at it. When we open up the roof and build ventilation lighting and access facilities, people can enter the reservoir without the constraints of a confined space,” he said.

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 coming under pressure to conserve the structure, which features impressive columns and soaring arches.

An aerial view of the reservoir, which has been saved from demolition. Photo: Martin Chan

Heritage officials apologised for the “insensitivity” of the demolition plan last year – blaming miscommunication among staff and waterworks engineers who had 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.

The reservoir dates from 1904, when it was built as part of the Kowloon Waterworks Gravitation Scheme to increase water supply for the area’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.