LCQ4: Conservation of Ho Tung Gardens and the West Wing of the Central Government Offices

     Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 13):


     When attending a radio programme in the morning of May 30, 2012, the Secretary for Development (SDEV) indicated that she would settle matters relating to the conservation of Ho Tung Gardens and the West Wing of the Central Government Offices (West Wing) before her departure from the office of SDEV on June 30 this year, so as to avoid leaving these two "hot potatoes" to her successor to handle. In connection with the latest development of the two aforesaid conservation projects and the long-term government policy on conservation of historic buildings, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the current progress in conserving Ho Tung Gardens, and whether the Government has made a final decision on the relevant conservation arrangement; if it has not, of the actions that SDEV will take to make sure that matters relating to the conservation of Ho Tung Gardens will be properly settled before her departure from office; if it has, of the details of the decision; whether the Government is prepared to declare Ho Tung Gardens as a statutory monument; if so, of the details and follow-up actions; if the Government is not prepared to declare Ho Tung Gardens as a statutory monument, the reasons and how the Government will conserve Ho Tung Gardens;

(b) given that the Government issued a statement on June 3 this year indicating that it had no intention of changing its plan to demolish the West Wing for redevelopment and that the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) had yet to submit its assessment of the various buildings of the Central Government Offices Complex, whether the Government will revise the demolition plan accordingly when the West Wing is eventually declared a Grade I building by AAB; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) given that under the proposals for the re-organisation of the Government Secretariat for the new-term Government, the policy on conserving heritage and historic buildings will be handed over to another policy bureau, whether SDEV can, before her departure from office, conclude the work in conserving heritage during the current term of the Government, and set out the areas that need to be improved; in addition, whether the Government will consider formulating the basis in principle for certain important conservation policies (including embarking on the specific work for setting up a heritage trust); if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     In the first policy address of this term of Government delivered by the Chief Executive in October 2007, the Chief Executive said that cultural life is a key component of a quality city life. The Chief Executive understood that in recent years, Hong Kong people have expressed our passion for our culture and lifestyle, and considered that this is something we should cherish. He promised that the Special Administrative Region Government would press ahead with our work on heritage conservation in the next five years. In accordance with the Chief Executive's policy objective, the Development Bureau announced in October 2007 the new heritage conservation policy, which covers conducting Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) for public works projects, implementing revitalisation for historic buildings, facilitating the preservation of privately-owned historic buildings, and setting up the Commissioner for Heritage's Office to coordinate various actions. I am happy to see that the heritage conservation work of this term of the Government has made some achievements with the support of the Legislative Council, various professional bodies, various partners and the public.

     My answers to the three parts of the question are set out below:

(a) For the Ho Tung Gardens case, when it came to our attention that Ho Tung Gardens might be demolished for redevelopment through the internal monitoring mechanism, I, in my capacity as the Antiquities Authority, declared Ho Tung Gardens as a proposed monument in January 2011. The declaration provided Ho Tung Gardens with statutory protection and allowed time for the Antiquities Authority to consider whether Ho Tung Gardens should be declared as a monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (hereafter "the Ordinance"). But according to section 2B of the Ordinance, the effective period of a proposed monument declaration for a privately-owned property is only 12 months and cannot be extended.

     After Ho Tung Gardens had been declared as a proposed monument, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) commissioned recognised scholars of the University of Hong Kong to conduct two consultancy studies to fully assess the heritage value of Ho Tung Gardens. The two consultancy studies have further established that the heritage significance of Ho Tung Gardens is beyond doubt. Apart from briefing the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) on the findings of the two consultancy studies, we have also organised a public forum for the community to discuss the heritage value and conservation of Ho Tung Gardens. Taking into account these studies and opinions, I initiated the statutory procedures to declare Ho Tung Gardens as a monument by consulting the AAB on my intended declaration in October 2011. Having obtained the AAB's unanimous support, I informed the owner of my intention in accordance with section 4(2) of the Ordinance.

     However, the owner has been expressing objection against the declaration of Ho Tung Gardens as a proposed monument and monument starting from the beginning. The Chief Executive in Council has earlier directed that the declaration of Ho Tung Gardens as a proposed monument should stand in accordance with section 2C(5) of the Ordinance. As for the intended declaration of Ho Tung Gardens as a monument, according to section 4(5) of the Ordinance, the Chief Executive in Council, upon considering the objection, may direct that (a) the intended declaration be made by the Antiquities Authority in accordance with section 3 of the Ordinance; (b) the intended declaration be so made, subject to such variations or conditions as he thinks fit; or (c) the intended declaration shall not be made. According to section 4(6) of the Ordinance, a direction of the Chief Executive in Council shall be final. We are waiting for the Chief Executive in Council's decision on the objection raised by the owner of Ho Tung Gardens. My earlier expression that I hope to resolve this case within my term of office as the Secretary for Development (i.e. before the end of this month) is only my subjective wish.

(b) The Government-owned Former Central Government Offices (CGO) is a different case. I plan to announce the ultimate option in the near future. Prior to AAB's agreement in November last year to invite the standing expert panel to grade the Main Wing, East Wing and West Wing of the CGO which are modern architecture and not on the list of 1 444 historic buildings in response to the request of a certain concern group, the Government had proactively commissioned heritage conservation experts from the United Kingdom to fully assess the historical and architectural values of these three buildings, and based on the assessment, announced under the "Conserving Central" initiative in October 2009 that the Main Wing and East Wing will be preserved as the new headquarters of the Department of Justice while the West Wing will be demolished for comprehensive development with the theme of "Restoring Green Central". We note that the expert panel of the AAB had, at its meeting held on May 31, 2012, suggested that the three buildings should be graded in accordance with their different heritage value, with the Main Wing accorded a Grade 1 status, East Wing a Grade 2 status, West Wing a Grade 3 status, and the whole CGO site a Grade 1 status. The expert panel also agreed with the earlier view of the experts from the United Kingdom, i.e. the historical value of the CGO site is higher than that of the individual buildings in CGO. Such suggestion will be submitted to the AAB for consideration on June 14, 2012. If the AAB agrees with the views of the expert panel, there will be a one-month public consultation on the proposed gradings before they are finalised.

     I would like to point out that historic buildings of different gradings have their own corresponding development and conservation options. This does not mean that no development is allowed. The demolition and redevelopment of the West Wing, which is of lower value, is not only consistent with the economic aim of increasing office supply in Central, but will also improve the efficiency of the city space and design. Under the Government's proposal which was revised at the end of last year, the footprint of the new building at the Lower Albert Road level will be reduced by 46% when compared with the existing West Wing, a public open space with an area similar to the Statue Square will be provided in the upper Central, and the landscape will be restored to its appearance in the mid-1950s. After redevelopment, the office building will be a building of appropriate development density located at a site of unique historical significance with financial and legal related functional uses. We consider that the proposal is consistent with the Government's new heritage conservation policy, and is also the best option consistent with city planning, land use and the overall interests of Hong Kong.

(c) In the past five years, the Development Bureau has pressed ahead heritage conservation work in accordance with the new heritage conservation policy. The Development Bureau has launched the "Revitalising Historic Buildings through Partnership Scheme" and the "Conserving Central" initiative, successfully preserved six privately-owned historic building projects through the provision of economic incentives, preserved the open-air bazaar at Tai Yuen Street, changed the original plan of total demolition of Wan Chai Market and facilitated the Urban Renewal Authority to reach an agreement with the developer to adopt the "core elements preservation" approach, adopted the "Retaining the Building and its Sitting Tenants" approach in revitalising the Blue House Cluster in Wan Chai, and preserved Wing Lee Street, etc. The Development Bureau has laid good foundations for heritage conservation work over the past five years.  For instance, proponents of all new capital works projects and relevant works departments are required to conduct HIA for the projects concerned, an internal monitoring mechanism to raise our awareness on the possible demolition of privately-owned historic buildings has been established, the "Practice Guidebook for Adaptive Re-use of and Alteration and Addition Works to Heritage Buildings 2012" has been published, and numerous public participation and education activities have been organised. These good foundations of heritage conservation work will not be destroyed with the transfer of functions arising from the re-organisation of the Government structure. Instead, putting heritage conservation under the proposed Culture Bureau will be conducive to the integration of the tangible heritage (i.e. buildings which are carriers of culture and history) and the intangible heritage of local culture and humanistic spirit. I hope that the new Culture Bureau would bring the heritage conservation work in Hong Kong to a higher level.

     We have also commenced the more long-term task of setting up a heritage trust. The Development Bureau commissioned a consultancy study in end 2011 to investigate the feasibility (covering the statutory, financial, organisational and operational considerations), framework and implementation of setting up a statutory heritage trust in Hong Kong to take forward future heritage conservation efforts. The consultancy study is expected to be completed within this year.

Ends/Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:49