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Chp 112, Tai Yuen Street – Forty years champion for the environment

Tai Yuen Street

The Urban Renewal Authority is meant to revitalize our old urban areas while preserving their character. In practice, however, the URA adopts a destroy-and-rebuild mentality making it the biggest threat to local culture and HongKong’s city heritage – the endangered areas like Tai Yuen Street/Cross Street is a case in point.

The open-air bazaar in Tai Yuen Street/Cross Street is reputed to have a history of 80 years. Originally serving the daily needs of the grass root populace, the place has become a tourist attraction; with about 200 hawker stalls selling a wide variety of dried goods, clothing and household products.

In 2001, the URA took over the Wan Chai Road/Tai Yuen Street project (H9) form the Land Development Corporation. Accompanying the plan to dismantle the old Wan Chai Market (see 111) was the proposal by the Transport Department in 2006 to open up the part of the bazaar at Tai Yuen Street south and Cross Street east to traffic; the hawkers would be moved or relocated to the new Wan Chai Market.

CA lodged our objection to Wan Chai District Council and Transport Department in June 2006, receiving nothing but lukewarm response from the Government. The Transport Department claimed in their reply letter that the proposal was practical and balanced, and was supported by various government departments as well as the Wan Chai District Council.

CA also wrote to URA requesting for a meeting on September 2006, but they replied that the issue was “being looked into by government departments concerned, in particular the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and Wan Chai District Office of the Home Affairs Department,” URA would just referred our letter to those departments “for attention and any actions necessary.”

Legco took up the case in March 2007, but the Administration insisted that the anticipated additional traffic demands could not be met and part of the bazaar must go.

In a dramatic twist of events, the Government announced in November 2007 that the bazaar could be kept intact by adopting a series of traffic control measures. Like the plan to preserve the front part of the Wan Chai Market, this fortunate turn of fate was attributed to the King Yin Lei Incident.

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July 31, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 111, Wanchai Market – Forty years champion for the environment

Wanchai Market

Though assessed as a “grade III” historical building by the Government, Wan Chai Market is almost the last remaining Streamlined Moderne building in Hong Kong. The structure was built in 1937 in place of the first Wan Chai Market. The building is “modern” both in terms of its form and the construction method: it was the first batch of single multi-storey markets and one of the first buildings constructed by concrete. The Wan Chai Market is one of the essential remnants of the surviving heritage asset of the local community, overlooking the development of “Old Wan Chai” from its strategic location. The building also have its own shares of history: The basement of the market was used by the Japanese Army for storing corpses in WWII.

The building was threatened with demolition when the Town Planning Board approved an application to turn the historical structure into a high-rise residential building in February 2004. The project dated back to 1994 when the then Land Development Corporation was approved by the Government to prepare a development scheme for Wan Chai Road/Tai Yuen Street Area (see also 112 for the fate of Tai Yuen Street).

Soon after the Town Planning Board’s decision in respect of Wan Chai Market, The Wan Chai Heritage Taskforce was set up with CA as one of its members; other members of the Taskforce included Hong Kong Institute of Architects, American Institute of Architects (Hong Kong Chapter), LIVE Architecture Programme, Department of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Urban Watch. If the movement to save the old Central Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier is said to be a grass-root movement, the campaign to conserve Wan Chai Market is surely the latest concerned effort to rescue our cultural heritage by the professional bodies.

The Taskforce believed that a participatory process was lacking, and the historical, architectural and social values of the building had not been seriously considered throughout the decision-making decision. A design charrette and a road show were held in July 2004. The Taskforce also wrote to the Antiquities Advisory Board, urging it to preserve the building, but to no avail.

When all hopes seemed lost, thanks to the King Yin Lei incidents (see above), the Urban Renewal Authority and the Development Bureau jointly announced at the end of 2007 that the façade and the front part of the building would be preserved as a friendly gesture to the conservation groups.

CA thinks that the best way to keep the character of Wan Chai Market alive is turning it into a bazaar for small retailers; we do not want another inhuman and faceless chain store run by a big single operator.

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 110, King Yin Lei – Forty years champion for the environment

King Yin Lei

The magnificent King Yin Lei Mansion (景賢里) at 45 Stubbs Road was built in 1937 on a 50,650 square feet site. The original owner was the offspring of a famous Chinese merchant and philanthropist, Mr Li Po Chun. The architect for the mansion was A.R. Fenton-Raven, a Yorkshireman who came to Hong Kong as a civilian attached to the British Army in 1903. The three-storey building is a “red bricks and green tiles” mansion of Chinese Renaissance or Chinese Neo Classical Style. A private garden festooned with bonsai plants, various pavilions and terraces encircle the mansion. It has been a scenic spot for tourists from the Mainland and overseas. The legendary TV series “Yesterday’s Glitter” (京華春夢) starring Lisa Wang and the 1955 Hollywood classic “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” both had major shots taken in the Mansion. The Mansion later passed to the hands of local merchant the Yow family.

In early 2004, the Mansion was put up for tender. That would mean the demise of the Mansion as the new buyer would in all likelihood demolish the buildings and re-develop the site.

In view of the heritage and landscape value of the Mansion, CA wrote to the Antiquities Authority the Secretary for Home Affairs Dr Patrick Ho in April requesting him to declare the Mansion as a monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. The Association also wrote to the owner of the site pleading for preservation of the Mansion. Not getting any response from either side, CA launched a “Save King Yin Lei Campaign” on 6 June 2004, announcing that it would submit a bid of $6,000,00 for the heritage mansion and if successful, would conduct a one-dollar-per-citizen fund-raising among the 6 million people of Hong Kong to pay for the tender, and then open the Mansion to the community.

Needless to say, CA’s tender bid was not successful, but it did draw widespread concern and awareness over King Yin Lei and heritage protection in general. The Antiquities Advisory Board discussed the case and agreed that King Yin Lei was worth preserving on account of its high historical and architectural value, though they did not give it a historical building status as it had not been able to gain access to the Mansion. In any case, CA’s campaign produced the desired effect in that the owner decided to withhold the sale of the building thus saving it from immediate destruction.

But the reprieve proved temporary. The Mansion changed ownership in August 2007 and CA could almost see a dark cloud on the horizon. Fearing the worst, CA wrote to Carrie Lam, the Secretary for Development in early August requesting her to declare the Mansion as a proposed monument in her capacity as the Antiquities Authority under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. “King Yin Lei has great heritage value historically, architecturally and culturally. Although a private property, it also has immense value as a public asset. Destruction of the building will mean an irreplaceable damage to Hong Kong’s history and heritage,” said CA in the submission. A reply was received from the Development Bureau dated 13 August which revealed that the Antiquities and Monuments Office was “in the process of conducting a detailed research with a view to ascertaining the heritage value of the building such that an appropriate way for its preservation could be devised.”

Then, the worst happened. CA was alerted by a phone call from some member of the public on 11 September and on visiting the site, CA members found, to their horror, that the Mansion was being dismantled before their eyes. In the following three days, the green tiles, the sphere-shaped decoration on the main roof, the window frames as well as the red brick wall surfaces were all destroyed. CA wrote to the Development Bureau immediately demanding that the government declare the Mansion as a temporary monument, and staged a petition on 13 September outside the Central Government Offices to urge the government to take action.

On 14 September, after a meeting of the Antiquities Advisory Board, the Secretary for Development declared King Yin Lei as a Proposed Monument. CA commended the decision which, though belated, at least preserved the structure of the Mansion.

The incident highlighted the gaping hole in government’s heritage protection regime: there is no mechanism at all to protect heritage buildings in private hands other than the extreme method of declaring it a Monument. Another loophole in the Building Ordinance allows owners to willfully and systematically destroy the heritage value of historical buildings under the name of “renovation”. Without a fair and transparent grading and compensation mechanism, nothing could prevent similar buildings from demolition.

The Provision Monument was a temporary status and a solution for conserving King Yin Lei was still lacking. On 20 September, in response to news report that the former owner of King Yin Lei had written to the Administration in April 2007 offering to discuss ways to preserve the Mansion but was ignored, CA wrote to the government pressing for an explanation and urging that King Yin Lei be conserved through a “transfer of development right” arrangement.

To assist in finding a solution, CA under the guidance of its Chairman Betty Ho applied to the Town Planning Board at the end of September to rezone the site from “Residential (Group C)” to “Other Specified Uses – for Residential Development with Historical Site Preserved In-situ” with a clear planning intention for the preservation of heritage.

In the meantime the assessment of the Mansion’s heritage value was completed with the help of outside experts. The result, to no one’s surprise, was that “few buildings of a similar kind in other parts of Hong Kong could compare with King Yin Lei in terms of its excellence in architectural design, exquisiteness in craftsmanship and diversity in building materials”, not to speak of its artistic and social values. CA’s rezoning request came at the right time to help a solution and eventually the government and the owner agreed on a scheme to transfer the owner’s development right to land immediate adjacent to the Mansion. The new scheme was approved by the Town Planning Board in April 2008.

July 29, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 109, Central Police Station Compound – Forty years champion for the environment

Central Police Station Compound

The former Central Police Station, former Victoria Prison and the former Central Magistracy is one of the oldest heritage compound with the rich Victorian, Edwardian and Oriental architectural styles. In 1995, all the buildings including the ground inside the Site were declared monuments under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance.

The Government decided in April 2003 to develop the site for heritage tourism. The tender was originally scheduled for early 2004, but was deferred due to public opposition initiated by CA and the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA). Initially, the objection was against the high weighting given to land premium – reportedly 40% – potentially favouring developments which put profit before heritage.

Together with the Hong Kong People’s Council for Sustainable Development and the Department of Architecture of the Chinese University, CA and HKIA formed the Central Police Station Heritage Taskforce with the objective of encouraging public participation in the envisioning, planning and monitoring of the project, and to advocate a heritage-focussed tendering process. Later the Taskforce was joined by other civil society groups.

As a first step, the Taskforce organised a Roundtable discussion on 25 September 2004 at the historic building at 28 Kennedy Road, then the venue of the Hong Kong Design Centre. More than 40 people including Legislators, district councilors, representatives of cultural and art organizations, government officials and professionals attended. The consensus emerging from the Roundtable was that the Government should review the tendering and assessment mechanism comprehensively. The future uses of the heritage should be open for public consultation through visits, open days and workshops.

With the views gathered from the Roundtable, the Taskforce developed a Citizen-Envisioned Participatory Assessment Model (CEPAM) which was submitted to the Chief Executive Mr CH Tung on 11 October 2004. The key to CEPAM is to adopt the “Heritage First” principle and the internationally recognised “China Principles” (the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China adopted in 2000 by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Chinese Central Government) in heritage preservation. According to the CEPAM model, the tendering would be split into a pre-qualification stage and a tendering stage. Only proposals satisfying both minimum preservation requirements and financial sustainability would proceed to the second stage, where the tenders would be assessed based on a set of criteria which emphasised heritage management, design merits and public enjoyment, with economic and tourism benefits carrying 20% of the weighting. The assessment should be undertaken by a multi-stakeholder expert panel. Public engagement was also emphasised at the planning, assessment and implementation stages.

The campaign was further strengthened in November 2004 by a signature campaign coordinated by CA calling upon the government to suspend the tendering process, open the CPS compound to the public, and show respect for Hong Kong history.

The campaign bore fruit. With the cooperation of the then Tourism Commissioner Eva Cheng, CA, HKIA and the Central and Western District Council jointly organized Open Days for the Central Police Station Heritage Compound in January and February 2005. CA explained the pros and cons of different models of conserving the Compound, including the CEPAM model developed by the Taskforce, to the visitors through a set of exhibition boards displayed in Court no. 2 of the Former Central Magistracy. The Government decided to make the Open Days part of a consultation process to last until the end of May 2005.

On 6 March 2005, CA, HKIA and the Central and Western District Council took the Open Day to another level by organizing a Heritage Citizen Envisioning Day with guided tours, open seminar and forum, and design charrettes. With funding from the District Council, CA organized an oral history research headed by historical researcher Dr Hans Yeung. The report of the envisioning exercise was submitted to the Chief Executive in August 2005. The two most significant findings were:

  • There is a strong community view that the preservation of “historical ambience” and “cultural values” are the most important factors in any reuse plan for the Compound.
  • There is much higher public trust on charitable non-governmental organisations or the government to take charge of the development and operation of the site, than to leave the matter in the hands of private developers.

In the letter to the Chief Executive CA also suggested that as a priority a Statement of Cultural Significance and a Sustainable Reuse and Conservation Plan be formulated, and that the Government seek to put the Compound in the Tentative List of UNESCO Heritage Sites.

 

Government did acquiesce by not proceeding with the tender. Some further contention continued over a specific building in the Compound, namely, the F Hall of Victoria Prison. The F Hall was not among the buildings to be preserved as the government considered that it had less heritage value, but that was contested by the Taskforce.

 

For some time there seemed no progress on the development, until the Hong Kong Jockey Club announced in October 2007 that it had engaged reputed international architects Herzog & de Meuron to develop a design for the re-use and revitalization of the Central Police Station Compound. The Club then conducted a six-month public consultation and submitted its findings to the government in May 2008.

On 15 July 2008, the government announced that it had decided to join hands with the Hong Kong Jockey Club to conserve and revitalize the Central Police Station Compound. A new Conservation Master Plan had been drawn up to guide the conservation aspects of the development. The design would also be adjusted after taking consideration of the views from the public consultation. By end-2008 the final design has yet to be unveiled.

July 28, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 108, Heritage policy – Forty years champion for the environment

Heritage policy

Occasioned by the Stanley Police Station fiasco where the oldest surviving police station was used as a supermarket, CA wrote to the Chairman of the Antiquities Advisory Board Professor David Lung on 5 February 2003 asking the AAB to “request the government to set as a policy to require the proactive promotion of heritage for all declared monuments and buildings of historical value which are managed by the government.” The Antiquities and Monuments Office’s remit was deemed too narrow, being limited only to protecting the heritage sites from physical damage but without any mandate to promote the heritage value of historical sites.

One week later CA submitted a paper to the Legislative Council in support of a motion debate proposed by Lau Ping Cheung to urge the government to formulate a comprehensive policy on heritage preservation. CA proposed that transfer of plot ratio was “the most workable tool for Hong Kong to sustain our heritage with relatively less financial burden.” The idea of “Special Design Zone” was also highlighted as a means to control developments in sites of historic value. Institutional reform would be necessary but even within the existing system, more could be done through administrative measure such as requiring all declared monuments and important graded buildings to display information about the history of the sites, using the Lord Wilson’s Trust more widely for heritage projects, and devoting more resources to grading and declaration of monuments. To engage the community, CA wanted a heritage trail for every district, and asked that government conduct comprehensive consultation within twelve months.

Being proactive itself, CA organized a forum on “Saving our Treasures: Developing a Mechanism to Preserve Hong Kong’s Historical Buildings” on 10 May 2003, with Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Lolly Chiu, URA’s Andrew Lam, Legislator PC Lau, Prof David Lung and Swire’s Gordon Ongley as speakers.

Besides chairing the forum, CA’s Albert Lai also presented a paper which stated, among other thing, “An elitist or expert approach in defining heritage resource must be balanced by a community approach to reflect the public view of what constitutes important collective memory.” Public receipts from development, i.e., land sales receipts and land premiums, was cited as one possible form of funding source for heritage conservation.

More thoughts were then put into heritage conservation policy which were articulated in the form of a position paper published in October 2003 titled “Heritage for the People”, now a seminal piece among CA’s policy papers. It recounts CA’s encounters after describing its philosophy towards heritage conservation, that heritage is social capital: “We preserve heritage buildings not just for their architectural merits, but for the character and substance of the society which they embody, the softer side of Hong Kong history and society which Hong Kong stands for. Management of this asset in a sustainable manner will not only enhance our quality of life, but also contribute to Hong Kong’s competitiveness.”

In the paper CA then called on the government to accede to international principles such as the Venice Charter and the China Principles. Four tools for protecting heritage were laid out, namely, planning control, government resumption, public-private partnership, and transfer of development rights. The paper also discussed redeployment of public resources and made recommendations on institutional development, including a Heritage Impact Assessment Bill, a Heritage Trust, and eventually an over-arching Conservation Authority.

Soon CA’s earlier wish that government conduct comprehensive consultation was granted, when Home Affairs Bureau released a consultation paper on Review of Built Heritage Conservation Policy. Yet CA found the Review extremely disappointing, in that the document was almost entirely about broad concepts with no discussion on details or practical options. Questions asked were of such generalities as “What should we conserve?” and “How should we conserve?” which CA considered not necessary as the broad concepts had already been debated over and again by the Antiquities Advisory Board and the earlier Culture and Heritage Commission. The only positive light was a promise in the document that “This consultation document focuses on built heritage and on broad policy issues; implementation measures will form the subject of another consultation exercise later.” The February 2004 document was to be only Stage 1 of the Review, with a “get-real” consultation promised for Stage 2.

In anticipation of the more substantive consultation to come, CA applied for funding from the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust to conduct a project “Heritage Conservation – we all gained”. It consisted of desk research, a survey study, two focus group meetings in June and July, as well as a citizen hearing in July 2004.

CA’s report was published in end-2004 and showed, among other things, the following results:

  • 10,000 opinions on heritage conservation;
  • 75% support for legislation, legal enforcement and Heritage Trust;
  • 63% support for incentives to heritage owners;
  • 54% agreeing to transfer of development rights;
  • 54% willing to pay $35 per year for heritage conservation; equivalent of $245 million for the whole population.

The report contained much substance on stakeholder views on heritage policy. However, judging from its stated purpose of bridging Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the heritage Policy Review, the CA report was a failure, because Stage Two never took place.

The next occasion when government undertook a heritage policy review was in early 2007 when, under pressure from the Star Ferry and Queen’s Pier saga, the Secretary for Home Affairs Dr Ho Chi Ping conducted some hastily convened consultative sessions on heritage policy. CA’s response was highly critical: the consultation “is badly conducted and shows a lack of sincerity by the government to truly review heritage policy. The current consultation should have been Stage 2 of the heritage review, Stage 1 having been conducted more than three years ago (February 2004). The current consultation should have been conducted on the basis of the result of the previous consultation. However, in terms of the questions asked and the views sought, there was no material difference in the way the current consultation is conducted from the previous one. There were no reports or papers on the result of the Stage 1 consultation, and if there were, they were never published. In other words, the community’s views as reflected in the 2004 consultation have been ignored.” (CA statement, 8 January 2007)

In October 2007 the Secretary for Development Mrs Carrie Lam announced a package of measures including a scheme to promote adaptive re-use of government heritage sites, subsidies for maintenance of graded buildings, and the establishment of a Heritage Commissioner post. Although described as “heritage conservation policy”, these looked like stop gap measures rather than the comprehensive policy promised in the 2004 Review.

July 27, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment