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Chp 23, Tsim Sha Tsui Hill – Forty years champion for the environment

Tsim Sha Tsui Hill

The Marine Police Headquarters was erected in 1884 on a small hill facing Salisbury Road at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. In 1967, the site was zoned for residential and commercial use with a public transport station. Another zoning plan in July 1976 would have preserved its government and community use and moved the transport terminus to Star Ferry to connect with a planned cultural complex; however, after objection by the Transport Department, this was reversed in 1977 which saw the development cum transport terminus reinstated in the zoning plan.

Both CA and the Heritage Society objected to the zoning plan. Taking advantage of the World Environment Day (5 June) of 1979, the Chairmen of CA and the Heritage Society, SL Wan and David Russell, made a joint public statement calling for the building and the hill to be conserved as a public park “for environmental, aesthetic and cultural reasons”. CA cited six reasons, including

  1. much greater need for open recreational space, given the congestion in Tsim Sha Tsui;
  2. the hill as an integral natural feature providing pedestrian relief from the street level noise, pollution, heat and over-crowding;
  3. the adverse environmental, microclimatological and aesthetic impact of the proposed use;
  4. a major bus terminus being undesirable and unnecessary, given the present terminal and alternative sites for feeder buses to the MTR and KCR;
  5. the historical value of the then 95-old building, a landmark of the area, forming a distinctive cultural and architectural feature together with YMCA and Peninsula Hotel; and
  6. the possible use of the main building, after renovation, for public functions, with its gardens and lawns providing a unique setting.

This was rejected by the Secretary of the Town Planning Board, KS Kiernan, in a public letter of 8 June which stated that the retention of the Hill would be “preventing desirable commercial development and interfering with the overall economy of Hong Kong.” But CA was convinced that Hong Kong would be better served by preserving rather than developing the Hill. A study by CA in July 1979 found 21 different species of mature trees on the site. Another microclimate investigation on thermal comfort of the Tsim Sha Tsui Hill was organized by CA in August 1979 with Dr William Kyle of Hong Kong University. The study found that Tsim Sha Tsui Hill “provides a more comfortable thermal environment for human activity, particularly during the day, than does the environment at Peking Road”, and concluded that “there is strong evidence in favour of retaining the Hill…as an oasis of lower thermal stress in southern Tsim Sha Tsui”.

CA and the Heritage Society found many allies, including A de O Sales, Chairman of the Urban Council. Indeed, this campaign of CA’s was marked not just by scientific research but also by stakeholder engagement with civic and professional groups including the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, the Hong Kong Museum of History, the Hong Kong Archaeological Society, the Hong Kong History Society, the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, the Urban Council, as well as academics from the universities. The ecological, planning and heritage studies evolved into a formal 50-page submission to the Secretary for the Environment addressing the town planning, transport, building (heritage), microclimate and flora/fauna aspects of the site and making a compelling case for preservation. Apart from reiterating the planning considerations and arguing against the transport case, CA emphasized the site’s history including its previous use as army headquarters by the Japanese who also dug tunnels underneath. At the time CA was emphatic that the Hill was as important as the building and must be preserved together.

Evidently the campaign had been successful in curtailing the development plan. The site’s use remained inconclusive until 20 years later when the decision was made to turn it into a heritage development.

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April 29, 2015 - Posted by | Dr WK Chan book

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