Review of Built Heritage Conservation Policy (March 2004)
The HKIP welcomes the Government's initiative to review the current policy on Built Heritage Conservation. However, there is concern that the review has been delayed and that the programme for consultation and action is to take too long. The HKIP urges Government to take a more positive programme of action as the longer it is delayed the more likely significant heritage features will be lost. Heritage elements should be retained as they are an important part of the social and cultural diversity of the community, a record of changes over time, and part of the physical variety and contrast that make Hong Kong an interesting and vibrant place to live in.
It is clear that the existing policy is inadequate, under-funded and narrow in its approach. Many examples exist where the building was only saved at the last minute such as with the Haw Par Mansion at Tiger Balm Gardens, or as a result of a response to public outcry, such as with Kom Tong Hall. A more proactive and comprehensive approach is required as at present all the significant buildings and sites have not even been identified. It is only when they are under threat that action is taken.
The existing Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance has very limited application relating to only to historical and architecturally significant buildings, and to archaeological sites. It also has very little application to the preservation of private buildings. The amount of funding available at around $50 million each year is not able to achieve much, given the large number of historical buildings and sites identified and the relatively small number, only 78, that have been declared monuments.
The Government has a wide range of possible additional mechanisms that it could develop under the land administration system, urban renewal system and through the town planning system, to facilitate the better conservation of items and areas of heritage interest or character. These are more than just buildings or places of historical or architectural interest. They must also include areas of heritage and cultural interest, and they must address buildings and areas in private ownership. A flexible approach to heritage conservation could effectively be included within the town planning and land administration systems which would allow for beneficial use of private land ownership rights, while protecting heritage components which are considered important by the public.
The HKIP therefore fully supports the adoption of a holistic approach, but urges that this approach to be introduced quickly. Recent events have shown that the public are not only interested in historic buildings, but perhaps more so, in streets and public areas with special character. Many of these places such as "Cloth Alley" (Wing On Street) and "Bird Street" (Hong Lok Street) have already been lost or are under threat such as Wedding Card Street) (Lee Tung Street). If a clear community based list of such places was established to indicate what was important in each district, this would help provide a better basis for heritage conservation.
The Consultation Document asks "How Much and Who Should Pay?" for heritage conservation. There is no one answer to this question and there should not be. To some extent it is a matter of establishing priorities. The amount of Government funding spent on heritage conservation could be increased significantly by re-allocation of relatively small amounts of money from other public projects
The income from the sale of existing heritage sites such as the Marine Police Station in Tsim Sha Tsui and the future sale of the Central Police Station site could be placed in a special Trust Fund for Heritage Conservation, rather than just absorbed into general Government funds. Private donations and contributions to a Heritage Trust could facilitate conservation, as happens in many other places. Reliance should not be placed only on public funding.
The HKIP therefore requests Government to urgently consider the following:
1. To start the proposed surveys with the District Councils immediately to quickly establish what is considered by the people to be important in each District. This is the best way to arouse interest and to facilitate a more focused discussion on the principles of what and how to conserve. Government should be more proactive and this should involve a process of public education.
2. Since this policy review is endorsed by the Executive Council, there should be clear commitment from the Government for a co-ordinated effort among relevant bureaux and departments for this mission. The consolidation of all aspects of Heritage Conservation into one Bureau, possibly the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau, should be considered.
3. Propose the setting up of an independent Heritage Trust to sustain the continuous effort needed for heritage conservation.
4. To adopt an approach in Urban Renewal focusing on regeneration rather than total redevelopment - sustainable development includes heritage conservation.
5. Revise the Town Planning, Urban Renewal and Antiquities and Monuments Legislation, and the Lands Policy, to ensure that the holistic approach advocated can be effectively implemented. The objective should be to achieve an integrated heritage conservation planning and management system.
Public Affairs Committee
Hong Kong Institute of Planners