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Speech by SEN at Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors International Heritage Conservation Conference 2017 (English only)
     Following is the speech by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) International Heritage Conservation Conference 2017 today (March 2):

Clement (Chair, RICS Hong Kong Board, Mr Clement Lau), Daniel (Organising Committee Chairman, RICS International Heritage Conservation Conference 2017, Professor Daniel Ho), ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. I would first like to thank the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors for inviting me to today's conference on "Sustainable Social and Economic Benefits in Built Heritage Conservation". To all overseas speakers and delegates, let me extend a very warm welcome.

     This is the second time the RICS, as one of the premier players in the industry, takes the lead in organising an international conference on the important subject of heritage conservation. With the participation of so many local and overseas heritage practitioners, I am sure all of us here will benefit from this invaluable experience-sharing occasion and take away with us ideas and solutions to reinforce built heritage conservation, not just in Hong Kong but also in other places or countries you come from.

     Hong Kong is an interesting place where the East meets the West. This vibrant and colourful and cosmopolitan city has experienced a diverse influence of cultures. It has developed an array of unique monuments and historic buildings which have not only borne witness to our history and development, but also epitomised our unique characteristics and social landscape.

Heritage Conservation Policy

     With steady social progress, we are increasingly aspiring for enrichment in life. In the midst of rapid economic development, people in Hong Kong have become more aware of the urgency of preserving our heritage assets and, in particular, heritage buildings. There is a growing groundswell of sentiment to keep the best and the most memorable elements of the past. It is against this background that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government introduced the heritage conservation policy in 2007. This policy aims to:

     "... protect, conserve and revitalise as appropriate historical and heritage sites and buildings through relevant and sustainable approaches for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations."

     This policy serves as the guiding principle for the Government to take forward various built heritage conservation initiatives, including setting up the Commissioner for Heritage's Office to implement the policy and carry out heritage programmes in close liaison with stakeholders and the general public.

The Funding Schemes

     To promote active public participation in preservation and innovative use of historic buildings, the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme, or the Revitalisation Scheme in short, was introduced in 2008. The Government has committed HK$2.4 billion for capital works proposed by non-profit-making organisations for revitalising government-owned historic buildings that are no longer required for government use. So far, five batches of projects involving a total of 19 historic buildings have been launched and eight of them have already commenced operation, attracting about 3.1 million visitors already by the end of 2016.

     We have also launched the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme to provide funding support for maintaining both privately owned graded historic buildings as well as government-owned declared monuments and graded historic buildings that are leased to non-profit-making organisations.

     To give further push to heritage conservation in Hong Kong, we established the Built Heritage Conservation Fund in 2016 with an initial commitment of HK$500 million to promote public education, community involvement and publicity activities, as well as academic research. The Fund also underpins certain existing government measures and initiatives, such as the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme and the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme. An Advisory Committee on Built Heritage Conservation with the majority of members being non-officials was formed to advise the Government on the operation of the Fund.

Adaptive Use of Heritage

     Development and conservation are not opposing or conflicting forces. We strive to strike a balance. As one of the key measures to enhance heritage conservation, we will continue to adaptively re-use suitable historic buildings.

     At present, there are 114 historic sites or buildings declared as monuments in Hong Kong under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. Declared monuments are subject to statutory protection. Prior approval of the Antiquities Authority is required for their demolition or alteration. Some declared monuments have been revitalised and given a new lease of life, including the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum which used to be the Kom Tong Hall in Mid-Levels, the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences which was the Old Pathological Institute in Sheung Wan, the Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village which belonged to three blocks of the old Lei Yue Mun Barracks in Chai Wan, and the new campus of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in Pok Fu Lam which was the Bethanie, a religious institute in the past. The adaptive re-use also re-connects the built heritage to the people.

     We have many more historic buildings turned into a hostel or hotel, café, higher education institute, training camp, cultural centre, Chinese medical clinic, etc. In fact, four projects under our Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme have won the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. They include the Green Hub which was previously the Old Tai Po Police Station - it is my favourite place because it not only conserves the social and economic aspects but is also a hub to cultivate a low-carbon lifestyle in Hong Kong, and I frequently visit the site as it is very beautiful; the Mei Ho House Youth Hostel; the Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong Campus; and the Tai O Heritage Hotel, which is a hotel frequently visited by my family to promote local travel so as to reduce carbon footprint instead of the frequent long-haul overseas travels. These four award-winning projects now make it a grand total of 17 Hong Kong project recipients in the Awards.

     Through these fascinating conservation projects, Hong Kong people have the chance to spend some time in these beautiful and meaningful historic buildings. Furthermore, old communities have been revived, local economy stimulated and more job opportunities created. The benefits that the projects bring are not limited to the architectural or historical aspects, but more importantly revitalising our old communities and creating new landmarks for people to enjoy.

Community Involvement

     However, Government's efforts alone are not enough. A multitude of collaborative efforts to revitalise our heritage conservation are needed and in action. The "Conserving Central" initiative is a good example. It comprises eight innovative projects which aim to conserve cultural, historical and architectural features in Central and add vibrancy to the vicinity. Among them, the former Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road has been transformed into a creative industries landmark named PMQ as a result of the joint efforts of Musketeers Education and Culture Charitable Foundation, Hong Kong Design Centre, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Hong Kong Design Institute of the Vocational Training Council. Furthermore, the former Central Police Station Compound has been restored and turned into a heritage and art centre known as Tai Kwun with financial assistance from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, for which the Government is most appreciative. Indeed, the Jockey Club Charities Trust and the Jockey Club itself are an important driving force in our quest to conserve our built heritage.

     We will not lose sight of the need to draw on the support of the private sector in heritage conservation. I do see some very successful cases in Hong Kong. One such example is the Crown Wine Cellars (also known as Little Hong Kong). The site was formerly the Central Ordnance Munitions Depot built by the British Royal Engineers for the defence of Hong Kong. Its restoration and adaptive re-use in 2004 culminated in Asia's first professional wine cellar and clubhouse, and was awarded the UNESCO heritage award in 2007. I know that Mr Gregory De 'Eb from Crown Wine Cellars is a guest speaker of today's conference. I am sure that he will share with you more about his successful experience.

Monitoring Mechanism and Guidebook

     It is unavoidable that some property owners choose to redevelop historic sites or buildings in their ownership. To conserve our valuable historic buildings, the Government has established a mechanism to monitor the demolition of or alterations to declared monuments, proposed monuments, graded buildings and buildings proposed to be graded, and to enable us to take timely follow-up action. The Commissioner for Heritage's Office and the Antiquities and Monuments Office will approach the private owners concerned to explore conservation options. We respect private ownership and recognise the need to give appropriate economic incentives to encourage private owners to support conservation of properties with heritage value. Economic incentives may take the form of, for instance, relaxation of plot ratio and building height, or even land exchange. Each case will be considered individually, and the goal is to strike a balance. We have also updated the relevant practice note and guidebook to incorporate practical examples of recent adaptive re-use of historic buildings to provide useful reference for owners, practitioners and conservationists.

Public Education and Promotion

     To raise public awareness of heritage conservation, we organise regular education and publicity programmes annually. We also publish a bimonthly newsletter entitled "活化@Heritage" and run a dedicated heritage website (www.heritage.gov.hk) and organise events to publicise our conservation achievements, including the annual Heritage Fiesta, roving exhibitions across the territory and event music performances at revitalised historic buildings such as the YHA Mei Ho House Youth Hostel, Green Hub, PMQ and Stone Houses Family Garden.

Looking Ahead

     We are committed to protecting our local heritage and believe in the sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits that it will bring. Conservation of historic buildings in Hong Kong has gone some way to the point which requires efforts beyond the Government. We will continue to collaborate with the community and draw together your wisdom to explore new opportunities. Looking ahead, we seek to gauge further public views on the provision of appropriate, attractive and cost-effective economic incentives so as to encourage more private owners to preserve properties with heritage value. We will remain open and prudent in considering various suggestions with a view to keeping up the conservation work in Hong Kong with the times.

     At this juncture, I would like to add that in the recent Policy Address, paragraphs 114 and 115 are related to what I talk about today. Paragraph 114 talks about the Lai Chi Wo Village, which is a 300-year-old walled Hakka village in the northeastern part of the New Territories. With funding support from the private sector and also the recent funding from the Jockey Club Charities Trust, they are conserving and revitalising the village including the social aspects, creating local economy, enhancing the biodiversity there and also restoring the old village houses there. Recently the Lonely Planet said that in Hong Kong, Causeway Bay is attractive, but there are two new very attractive points in Hong Kong that overseas visitors can enjoy, and one of them is the Lai Chi Wo project. So I would like to encourage you, no matter if you are in Hong Kong or from overseas, to take time to visit the Lai Chi Wo project. It also belongs to the UNESCO Global Geopark network area, so there are multiple benefits that you will enjoy. And paragraph 115 of the Policy Address talks about the idea of setting up a conservation fund preparatory committee that, under the leadership of the Environment Bureau, is to address the conservation of remote rural villages in the New Territories that comprise multiple benefits of the old culture, old village buildings and also biodiversity. We are preparing the preparatory committee and will engage the relevant stakeholders so that we can have the joint efforts and wisdom together to conserve the rural villages in Hong Kong.

     In closing, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks once again to the RICS, and to all of you here for your interest, dedication and efforts in built heritage conservation. I wish the Conference a huge success. Thank you.
Ends/Thursday, March 2, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:34
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