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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

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