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LCQ20: Archaeological excavation at To Kwa Wan Station of Shatin to Central Link

Following is a question by the Hon James To and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (December 17):

Question:

It is learnt that the discoveries of antiquities and monuments one after another at the works site of the To Kwa Wan Station on the MTR Shatin to Central Link (SCL) have caused delays in the railway construction works and incurred additional expenditure.  The Government and the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) have to make a decision within a short period of time on the approach to preserve the antiquities and monuments unearthed and the need to revise the station design, etc.  There are comments that in as early as 2008, the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) carried out an archaeological survey-cum-excavation on that site.  Subsequently, the Water Supplies Department also discovered antiquities on that site during the construction of a sewage pump house in 2009.  Therefore, the Government knew long time ago the possible presence of important antiquities and monuments there.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as MTRCL currently undertakes an archaeological excavation only within the works site of the To Kwa Wan Station on SCL but the distribution area of the relevant antiquities and monuments may fall outside the site, whether the Government has considered dealing with the archaeological work which falls outside the works site; if it has, of its plans; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) given that some members of the public have pointed out that the archaeological and excavation work at the works site of the To Kwa Wan Station on SCL was carried out in a very hasty manner and they did not have adequate information and channels for participating in the discussion on how to preserve the antiquities and monuments, and that there are queries of whether the authorities have made their best efforts in preserving antiquities and monuments, whether the Government will enhance public participation in the archaeological work concerned in future; if it will, in what way; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) given that some members of the public have pointed out that the area of the site where relics were excavated is more than twice of that estimated in the environmental impact assessment report on SCL, whether the Government has assessed if the report had seriously underestimated the presence of antiquities and monuments in the works site concerned; if the assessment outcome is in the affirmative, of the estimated resultant increase in the project cost for SCL; and

(4) given that the construction works of a number of infrastructural projects and railway projects will commence one after another in the coming few years, whether the Government has considered engaging archaeologists itself to conduct archaeological and excavation work at the locations within the works site where antiquities and monuments may be present before handing over such works sites to the contractors, instead of leaving the contractors to make arrangements for such work after they have taken over the works sites, so as not to affect the progress of the works; if it has, of its plans; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

The Government is committed to strike a balance between development and conservation. My reply to the four parts of the Hon James To's question is as follows:

(1) The archaeological survey completed by the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) only covered the area within the works site of To Kwa Wan (TKW) Station. The extent of ancient human settlement may be inferred with reference to the relics discovered and their distribution as well as the alignments of the coastline and estuary in the Song-Yuan Dynasties. In case further works are undertaken within related areas in future including North Apron Area of the former airport near Prince Edward Road East and the future Sung Wong Toi Park, related project proponents will conduct an archaeological survey.

(2) Notification to the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB), the public and the District Councils (DCs) has been enhanced since 2012. On one hand, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) has to report regularly the progress of archaeological projects to the AAB at its meetings,  submit the sections relevant to archaeology in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports to the AAB and upload the same information onto the AAB's website. On the other hand, the AMO will also closely monitor the works of the archaeologist, including providing relevant comments to and discussion with the archaeologist, and conducting site visit, etc. When receiving the notification of the archaeological discoveries and the preliminary assessment of the heritage value from the archaeologist, the AMO will examine and analyse the related information. When necessary, AMO will invite other experts to provide their views on the findings.  AMO will report to the AAB before notifying the project proponents and the archaeologist whether the conservation option is agreed. If such archaeological discoveries have important value or arouse public concerns, AMO will report to the AAB in its special agenda, and arrange AAB members for site visits.

All reports compiled by the archaeologists upon completion of the archaeological works will be uploaded onto the website of the AMO.  If archaeological discoveries of special archaeological, paleontological or historical interest are found and the reports compiled by the archaeologists are not yet available, the information note circulated to the AAB will be first uploaded onto the AMO's website for public viewing, and a copy will also be submitted to related DCs for reference.

Besides, regarding the archaeological work and discoveries at the works site of the TKW Station of the Shatin to Central Link (SCL), we have also consulted the AAB, the Panel on Development of the Legislative Council and the Kowloon City District Council (KCDC) respectively on these options.  Members of the AAB, members of KCDC and some Legislative Council members and media have conducted site visits to the TKW Station of the SCL separately.

Starting from April this year, the AMO has submitted monthly reports on the progress of the archaeological surveys and discoveries at the works site of the TKW Station of the SCL to the AAB and me.  The AMO has also proactively reported the same at the AAB's meetings and arranged site visits for the AAB members. The monthly progress reports have been uploaded to the AMO's website. The AAB's meetings are open to the public and its minutes are available on its website. All completed archaeological reports compiled by the archaeologists have also been uploaded to the AMO's website. Throughout the archaeological excavation, we have been keeping high transparency to let public have sufficient information on the progress of the archaeological works and the discoveries. The public has also expressed their views from time to time.  The archaeological excavation was not carried out in a very hasty manner.

(3) The Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) commissioned an archaeological consultant to undertake an Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA) as part of the EIA report on the Kai Tak Development project in 2008. The EIA report was approved by the Director of Environmental Protection after assessment by the Advisory Council on the Environment and making it available for public inspection and comments.  In light of the discoveries of the remains of the Lung Tsun Stone Bridge and porcelain sherds of Song Dynasty at two sites of the former North Apron area, the AIA of the EIA report recommended an archaeological survey for the area. The report further indicated that although the underground deposits were destroyed by the levelling of the mountain body of the former Sacred Hill after the Second World War and subsequent construction of a nullah, it still recommended further archaeological survey for the area surrounding the Sacred Hill (North) before commencing the works there, so as to ascertain the area with archaeological potential at the northern part of the Sacred Hill.

In 2009, CEDD commissioned an archaeologist to continue the archaeological works. The archaeological survey suggested that there is certain archaeological potential at the Sacred Hill (North), and recommended that a detailed AIA should be carried out before construction of the SCL, so as to ascertain the location of archaeological potential.

On the other hand, the Drainage Services Department (DSD) commissioned an archaeologist in 2009 to carry out an archaeological excavation in connection with the construction of a sewage pump house and the associated sewerage pipes under the Kowloon City sewerage discharge programme. The result of the archaeological excavation suggested that there are traces of human activities dated back to Sung-Yuan period at the eastern part of the Sacred Hill. However, the archaeologist opined that archaeological potential outside the excavation area has to be further ascertained.

In 2011, the MTRCL commissioned another archaeological consultant to carry out AIA. The report also concluded that the mountain body of the Sacred Hill was destroyed during the Second World War and levelled in the 1950s. As such, its archaeological potential was low.  Its foothill area was also destroyed by housing developments in the early 20th century. However, the Sacred Hill (North) still had certain archaeological potential and the study therefore recommended that detailed archaeological survey-cum-excavation should be undertaken prior to the construction of the SCL. The AIA also indicated that the alluvial area to the west of the Sacred Hill did not have any archaeological potential.

The above-mentioned archaeological reports were compiled by different archaeologists after an integrated analysis of the past history, archaeological information, geology, landforms, on-site archaeological surveys and site observations. Similar conclusion for the extent of the archaeological works at that time was reached by different experts after detailed analysis, on-site trench investigation and study, as well as research, etc.

(4) Under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO), project proponents are required to undertake proper evaluation, at the earliest possible stage, of the environmental impacts of development projects and ensure satisfactory implementation of necessary prevention and mitigation measures to protect the environment. The EIAO also has provisions that are related to the protection of archaeological heritage in Hong Kong, including archaeological impact assessment for cultural heritage impact assessment, so as to provide protection for archaeological heritage in Hong Kong.

On the other hand, since 2008, the Government has required the project proponents and relevant works departments of all new capital works projects to examine whether the works projects will affect sites or buildings of historic or archaeological significance. If the answer is in affirmative, a heritage impact assessment would be required and mitigation measures should be formulated, including pre-construction archaeological surveys, to minimise the damage. This would ensure that a suitable balance can be struck between the requirements for development initiated by the Government and heritage conservation, starting from the inception stage of a project.

Under the current mechanism, the archaeological area is decided by the project proponents taking account of the extent of construction works.  Project proponents shall also be responsible for the archaeological work, subject to AMO's supervision. Project proponents can revise the design and/or related works sequence in response to the archaeological discoveries, with a view to tying in with the archaeological work and the discoveries. Therefore, the existing arrangement is considered proper and valid.

Ends/Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Issued at HKT 15:30

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