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LCQ6: Policy Review on Conservation of Built Heritage

     Following is a question by the Hon Martin Liao and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (January 27):


     The Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) published in January last year the Report on the Policy Review on Conservation of Built Heritage.  AAB recommended in the Report that the Government should set up a dedicated fund on the conservation of built heritage to provide funding for public education, publicity activities, academic researches, as well as public engagement and consultation programmes.  In his recently delivered Policy Address, the Chief Executive indicated that the Government would earmark $500 million to implement AAB's recommendation for the establishment of the fund.  However, some conservationists have pointed out that the Government has not put forward any specific proposals in respect of AAB's recommendations on encouraging private owners to conserve their historic buildings and pursuing the conservation of historic buildings on the premise of respecting private property rights.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the details of the work on establishing the aforesaid fund, including the work objectives, the timetable for accomplishing the various objectives and the performance indicators; whether the authorities will consider making the fund a statutory one;

(2) given that, as the first step to prepare detailed records of historic buildings, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) has deployed its work team to conduct 3D scanning for historic buildings which are either under threat or worthy of public viewing, whether AMO has selected the historic buildings according to their assigned grading; how AMO carries out the relevant work when owners of privately-owned historic buildings refuse to co-operate with AMO; and

(3) given that in recent years, quite a number of privately-owned historic buildings have been demolished before they are graded, of the experience which the Government has learnt from such cases and whether it has, in the light of such experience, formulated afresh a set of proposals on historic building grading and conservation which "respect our heritage while looking ahead"?



     In early 2013, the Government invited the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) to assist in the policy review on the conservation of privately-owned built heritage by making reference to the challenges met and experience gained in the conservation work over the past few years.  The AAB completed the review in end 2014 and released the review report in early 2015.  We welcomed the AAB's recommendations and subsequently set up task forces to carefully examine them.  We announced that we formally accepted the AAB's recommendations in December 2015.

     My reply to the various parts of the Hon Martin Liao's question is as follows:

(1) In the 2016 Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced that resources would be earmarked to implement the AAB's recommendations, including the setting up of a fund dedicated to the conservation of built heritage administratively.  The Government will first earmark $500 million for the fund.  We will set up, within this year, a committee comprising primarily non-official members to advise the Government on the operation of the fund.

     The fund will finance two existing initiatives, that is, the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme and the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme for privately-owned graded historic buildings.  For the latter, we will raise the grant ceiling for works projects and expand the scope of the scheme to cover all historic buildings for non-governmental use, such that more comprehensive maintenance works could be carried out.  Further, the fund will support public education, community involvement activities, promotional activities and academic research.  Our preliminary thinking is to collaborate with professional institutions and non-government organisations in enhancing community involvement activities, and to financially support current programmes such as the Friends of Heritage Scheme.  We will also carry out a pilot study on the "point-line-plane" approach for conservation, and work with the AAB, experts and stakeholders to explore the way forward on this subject.

     The AAB was of the view that the fund should be set up in the most effective manner.  We consider that a fund of administrative nature can be established and start operating within a relatively short period of time.  In the long run, we will not rule out the possibility of evolving towards a statutory fund given its merits.  At this stage, setting up an administrative fund would be the first step to implement the AAB's recommendation.  The organisation and operation of the fund will be reviewed when appropriate in the light of the experience in running the fund to identify the best way forward in meeting the objective of the fund.

(2) With additional staff, procured equipment and training, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) will commence 3D scanning for historic buildings within this year.  The AMO will determine the targets and the work priority in accordance with the heritage value of the historic buildings and the threats posed by development.  Initially, 3D scanning will be conducted for declared monuments and the historic buildings scheduled for major restoration works by the AMO.

     Generally, the AMO would approach the owners of the privately-owned historic buildings concerned to secure their consent before commencing on-site recording work.  From past experience, these owners seldom refused the AMO's request for making cartographic records of their historic buildings.  In case where the AMO is unable to enter a historic building to make records for any reasons (such as building conditions), it would conduct 3D scanning of the building's external elevations.  Detailed records of historic buildings would be compiled in a reasonable and appropriate manner with due respect for private property rights and in the light of the practical environment and circumstances.

(3) The current grading system for historic buildings is administrative in nature.  It aims to provide an objective basis for determining the heritage value of individual historic buildings and the need for conservation.

     We have put in place an internal mechanism for monitoring the demolition of or alterations to declared monuments and proposed monuments, as well as graded historic buildings and the buildings with proposed grading.  The Buildings Department, Lands Department and Planning Department will alert the Commissioner for Heritage's Office and the AMO when they identify possible threat which may affect privately-owned monuments and historic buildings of heritage value that have been brought to the departments' attention by way of applications and enquiries received and in their normal course of duty such as regular inspections.  These two Offices will then approach the owners of the privately-owned historic buildings concerned to explore conservation options.

     We recognise that on the premise of respecting private property rights, appropriate economic incentives should be offered to encourage the private owners or in exchange for their consent to conserve historic buildings in their ownership.  The current economic incentives offered include compensation to private owners for their loss due to conservation of historic buildings.  For example, private owners would be given policy support for their applications to relax the restrictions on plot ratio and/or site coverage in order to encourage them to adopt a "preservation-cum-development" approach in preserving and revitalising their historic buildings.  In response to the AAB's recommendations, we are carefully considering the provision of more attractive economic incentives beyond compensation according to the heritage value, scale and building conditions of privately-owned historic buildings.  Other than the related policies, the provision of economic incentives involves public resources and financial commitment.  As such, we will conduct in-depth study with reference to the practices overseas, so as to ensure the conservation of built heritage and respect for private property rights on the one hand, and to strike a balance between financial consideration and public interests on the other.

Ends/Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:59


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