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LCQ5: Heritage conservation policy

Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):

Question:

Since April 2003, four historic buildings have been declared as proposed monuments, and two of them have already been declared as statutory monuments. The latest building declared as a proposed monument is the Ho Tung Gardens on The Peak. The Government recently intends to declare the Ho Tung Gardens as a statutory monument and is negotiating with the owner of the Ho Tung Gardens on the compensation package. As the issue has given rise to public debate over the conservation policy on monuments and historic buildings, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that different compensation proposals were made by the authorities in handling the compensation for the three proposed monuments, namely the Morrison Building, King Yin Lei and Ho Tung Gardens, of the criteria based on which the authorities formulated the compensation proposals, and how the authorities have formulated the compensation proposal for the owner of the Ho Tung Gardens according to these criteria;

(b) given that at present the authorities handle the compensation arrangement for the declaration of private properties as proposed monuments on a case-by-case basis, whether they will consider developing a specific mechanism and consistent standards for making compensation to owners of statutory monuments, as well as formulating principles and procedures for adopting which form of compensation (e.g. land swap and transfer of plot ratio, etc.), so as to avoid society forming the impression that the current compensation arrangements lack consistent standards and transparency; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) as the existing legislation provides statutory protection for proposed and statutory monuments only, without giving the same protection to the graded historic buildings confirmed by the Antiquities Advisory Board, whether the authorities will consider conducting a comprehensive review of the conservation system for proposed and statutory monuments as well as graded historic buildings, and introduce legislation to preserve graded historic buildings; if they will, of the details of such review; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

Under the new heritage conservation policy announced by the Chief Executive in October 2007, the Administration recognises that on the premise of respecting private property rights, we need to offer appropriate economic incentives to encourage or in exchange for private owners to conserve historic buildings in their ownership. From October 2007 till now, we have, including the preservation-cum-development proposal of the China Light & Power which was approved by the Metro Planning Committee of the Town Planning Board last week, successfully secured owners' agreement to conserve historic buildings under five projects through the provision of economic incentives. They comprise a monument (King Yin Lei), a Grade one building (the clock tower of the China Light & Power Administration Building), two Grade three buildings (Jessville at 128 Pokfulam Road and the front portion of the shophouse at 179 Prince Edward Road West) and a group of four Grade one or Grade two buildings of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui.

My reply to the three parts of the question is set out below -

(a) As evident from the successful cases in the past few years, the policy of providing economic incentives for conserving privately owned historic buildings is not confined to proposed monuments. Generally speaking, a historic building may be declared as a proposed monument in view of a demolition threat. The Antiquities Authority, having consulted the Antiquities Advisory Board, may consider it necessary to declare the building as a proposed monument to provide a buffer period of 12 months for ascertaining the heritage value of the building and exploring the possibility of conservation with the owner. In fact, we welcome it even more if owners of historic buildings proactively contact us, at any time, to explore proposals which can balance conservation and development at any time. While the provision of economic incentives serves a compensatory function to a certain extent, it is not the established compensation arrangement for resumption of private land or property by the Administration. In formulating the appropriate economic incentives, factors to be taken into account generally include the heritage value of the historic building concerned, the development potential and value of the site where the building is located, the space provided by the site from the planning perspective, the wish of the owner, the land and financial implications on the Administration, as well as the anticipated public reaction. It is indeed because of the need to consider a multitude of factors, and that the cases involved are few in number but very diverse in nature, it is considered appropriate to formulate feasible proposals according to the circumstances of individual cases.

Regarding the case of Ho Tung Gardens, having considered its significant heritage value and the value of the site at the Peak on which the Gardens is located, as well as the fact that the owner has obtained approval for her plans to demolish and redevelop the Gardens, we consider it necessary to offer a site which allows the owner to pursue development as an economic incentive. The owner has once expressed interest in the provision of economic incentives by the Administration or the land exchange proposal as in the case of King Yin Lei. We have therefore explored the technical feasibility, and offered the owner with a feasible land exchange proposal in May this year in order to preserve the most important parts of Ho Tung Gardens. According to the land exchange proposal, we will apply the original development parameters of Ho Tung Gardens (including the site area, plot ratio and building height) to the new site, after land exchange, as a reasonable economic incentive. So far, we have not yet reached an agreement with the owner.

(b) As mentioned above, the type and extent of economic incentives are determined on a case-by-case basis, and seek to strike a balance between respect for private property rights and heritage conservation. Since each historic building is unique and the demand and wish of each private owner are not the same, adopting a standardised proposal will not be conducive to the formulation of the most appropriate economic incentive in exchange for the conservation of the historic building concerned by the owner.

When applying the policy of providing economic incentives, we will present the proposal to the public and adhere to required statutory procedures. For example, in the case of King Yin Lei, we presented the land exchange proposal to the public at the very first instance and followed the established town planning procedures to rezone the newly granted site used for land exchange from Green Belt to residential use. This set of procedures include making public the rezoning application by the Town Planning Board when received and allowing the public to express their views within a certain period of time. Those who have made submissions may also make presentation in person at the Town Planning Board meetings. In the case of Ho Tung Gardens, I also presented to the public the economic incentive proposal offered to the owner when I announced the intention to declare Ho Tung Gardens as a monument. I consider the existing mechanism reasonable and appropriate.

(c) While the mechanism for providing compensation to the owner by the Antiquities Authority as stipulated under section 8 of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (the Ordinance) is only applicable to those historic buildings which have been declared as proposed monuments or monuments under the Ordinance, economic incentives may be made available to those graded historic buildings which are not under statutory protection. Moreover, through the new heritage conservation policy formulated in 2007 and the work in recent years, we have appropriate measures in place to protect and conserve all categories of historic buildings. These measures include conducting heritage impact assessment for all new capital works projects, completing the heritage assessment of the 1 444 buildings systematically, setting up an internal monitoring mechanism under which the Commissioner for Heritage's Office and the Antiquities and Monuments Office will be alerted to take action when possible threats to historic buildings are known, as well as regarding Grade one buildings as highly valuable historic buildings for consideration by the Antiquities Authority as to whether they may have reached the "high threshold" of monuments to be accorded with statutory protection when necessary.

The above-mentioned measures have already provided effective protection to historic buildings in Hong Kong, and struck a balance between respect for private property rights and heritage conservation. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this new heritage conservation policy and do not have plan currently to conduct another comprehensive review.

Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:42

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