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LCQ2: Monuments and antiques unearthed at railway construction sites

Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (May 21):

Question:

Earlier on, archaeologists have unearthed monuments and antiques, including ancient wells, ceramic shards, coins and stone structures of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, at the construction sites of the MTR Shatin to Central Link (SCL) in To Kwa Wan, and the related works have been affected as a result.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1)  whether it has assessed the prospects of unearthing new monuments and antiques at the SCL construction sites; if the assessment outcome indicates that the prospects are low, whether it has assessed if the SCL construction works can be completed on schedule; if the assessment outcome indicates that the works cannot be completed on schedule, for how long the completion date of the project will be postponed;

(2)  whether it knows the details of the monuments and antiques which have been destroyed at or removed from the SCL construction sites;

(3)  of the preservation proposal for the aforesaid ancient wells and the measures in place to ensure that the monuments and antiques unearthed at the SCL construction sites will not be destroyed further;

(4)  whether it knows if in-situ preservation of the aforesaid ancient wells will have any impact on the SCL railway alignments; if there will be impacts, whether the travelling time of that railway line will increase as a result; and

(5)  whether the Antiquities and Monuments Office or the MTR Corporation Limited is responsible for coordinating the surveys of the aforesaid ancient wells; which of these two institutions assumes a leadership role in handling the relevant matters and whether a mechanism is in place to coordinate their work?

Reply:

President,

My reply to the five parts of Hon. Chan's question is as follows:

(1)  The archaeological survey-cum-excavation carried out at the designated area of To Kwa Wan Station for the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA Report) of the Shatin to Central Link (SCL) (Tai Wai to Hung Hom Section) was completed at the end of last year.  But given the possible discovery of archaeological relics at the work sites outside the designated area, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) has requested an archaeologist to carry out archaeological monitoring work in the vicinity of the designated area in stages to collect further information for study and analysis in order to conduct a more concrete evaluation of the condition and historical value of the archaeological relics.  The AMO will consult the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) on the feasible conservation options.

According to the Transport and Housing Bureau, the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) is fully co-operative in meeting the requests and recommendations of the AMO and the archaeologist for carrying out the relevant archaeological work.  To ensure that the archaeological works will not be affected by the construction works of the To Kwa Wan Station of the SCL project, the MTRCL has suspended the construction works within the archaeological watching brief area.  As a result, the sequence of some construction works have to be adjusted accordingly and the progress of the construction works have already been affected.  As the archaeological watching brief is still on going, the extent to which the works progress would be affected cannot be determined at the present stage.

(2) and (3) There are three areas for archaeological work within the works site of the SCL's To Kwa Wan Station in the Sacred Hill area.  Since the stone well of the Song Dynasty unearthed at the first area in the east (the first stone well) has significant heritage value, the Government has decided to preserve it in-situ.  Other major discoveries, including scattered ceramic shards and coins, as well as the remnants of archaeological features of the Song to Yuan Dynasties and modern period, have all been retrieved so that further excavation of archaeological remains underneath could proceed.  Excavation at this area has reached the sterile layer at 2.3 to 4.8 metres below ground, and the archaeological work has been completed.

As regards the second area of archaeological work in the west of the To Kwa Wan Station, the only area where archaeological work has yet to be completed is the T1 Area in the southwest corner with an area of about 400 square metres.  Archaeological excavation outside the T1 Area has reached the sterile layer at 2.6 to 4.5 metres below ground and has been completed.  In mid-March this year, another stone well of the Song Dynasty (the second stone well) and remnants of other stone structures were identified in the T1 Area, but this stone well is not as intact as the one unearthed earlier.  At the present stage, measures have already been taken to preserve the stone well together with the remnants of other stone structures.

With the exception of the T1 Area of the second archaeological work area, the archaeological work is mainly focused on the third area, i.e. the area between the two archaeological work areas in the east and the west, as well as the areas to the west and southwest of the T1 Area.  Since the relevant work has not been completed, we have not yet fully grasped the overall condition and extent of the remnants of human settlements dating back to the Song-Yuan period there.  We, however, believe that when archaeological work is completed in the third quarter of this year, we can gather more data of the archaeological site for further study and analysis, so as to draw a more comprehensive and concrete conclusion regarding the extent and condition of the archaeological remains as well as their overall heritage value, and to formulate appropriate conservation proposals and measures.  By then, we will consult the AAB before a more comprehensive and concrete conclusion is drawn.  At this stage, I have instructed the AMO to provide monthly reports to me and the AAB on the progress of the archaeological excavation-cum-survey at the site in accordance with the existing notification mechanism, and to increase the frequency of reporting as and when necessary.

The site and the relics unearthed have been properly preserved under the supervision of the AMO.  For areas where archaeological work has not yet been completed, except for work processes that are required for the archaeological excavation, all MTRCL works have been suspended to ensure that the relics exposed will be properly protected.  The MTRCL will suspend all works within the existing archaeological work areas until the archaeological work is completed.

When considering the conservation proposals or recommendations regarding the relics unearthed or the sites of discovery, the Administration will take into full account all the relevant factors, consult the AAB and consider the advice of the AMO.  From the discovery of the first stone well to the discussion of its in-situ preservation proposal, all the Government departments concerned have made concerted efforts to look for a win-win solution to the dual challenges of urban development and heritage conservation.  In future, even for works projects that are inter-related, large-scale and complicated, the Government will make reference to previous practices and strive to conserve heritage while completing the projects in phases according to the schedule.  

(4)  According to the Transport and Housing Bureau, the second stone well in the T1 Area is located within the boundary of the To Kwa Wan Station but away from the alignment of the SCL tunnel.  Preliminary assessment indicates that the stone well will not affect the SCL alignment.  However, if it is to preserve the well in-situ, there is a need to revise the design of To Kwa Wan Station and modify the originally planned construction method.  As for the extent to which the archaeological work will affect To Kwa Wan Station and the construction of the railway tunnel, a more comprehensive assessment can only be made having regard to the progress of the archaeological work and the final arrangements for the relics discovered.  

(5)  The EIA Report of the SCL (Tai Wai – Hung Hom Section) mentioned that an archaeological survey conducted in 2010 in the Sacred Hill Area had revealed that the MTRCL works site has certain archaeological potential.  As such, it recommended that the MTRCL should commission an archaeological survey-cum-excavation for the Sacred Hill Area before the commencement of their construction works.   

In accordance with the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, the archaeologist commissioned by the MTRCL submitted a licence application to the AMO under the Antiquities Authority. The application set out the practical arrangements of an archaeological watching brief (including its scope and methodology and the requirement to report any discovery to the AMO).  After consideration by the AMO and with the support of AAB, the Antiquities Authority (i.e. Secretary for Development) issued the licence to the applicant.

The AMO has closely monitored the archaeological work, including offering relevant advice, participating in discussions, conducting site visits, and regularly reporting the progress to the AAB.  If there is significant archaeological findings, the archaeologist would immediately report them to the AMO.  Where necessary, the AMO would invite other experts to provide advice on the findings.  Such practice is in line with the principles of archaeology.

Ends/Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:30

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