Speech by SDEV at International Conference on Heritage Conservation 2013 (English only)

Following is a speech by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, at the International Conference on Heritage Conservation 2013
"Latest Movements in Heritage Conservation: Global Vision and Local Outlook" today (November 29):

Honourable Vice-Minister Li, distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you all, especially our eminent guests from the Mainland and overseas who have flown thousands of miles to join us here today at the International Conference on Heritage Conservation 2013. Many thanks also go to the Architectural Conservation Programmes of the University of Hong Kong for co-organising this conference.

The theme of the conference, "Latest Movements in Heritage Conservation: Global Vision and Local Outlook", is visionary and forward-looking. I am pleased to learn that the conference has attracted more than 300 participants who are either working in the heritage conservation sector or interested in this subject. Like other advanced international cities, we in Hong Kong face the pressures brought about by continuous economic development, but I'm glad to say we have not lost sight of the precious value of our historic past. In fact, as a civil society, we have increasingly come to recognise the importance of treasuring our historic legacy, and in particular the need to devote resources to conserve our built heritage.

In the Hong Kong context, we need to develop and redevelop continuously in the face of our severe space constraints. Conservation of historic buildings is therefore always a challenge. Nevertheless, the Government is committed to making a strong case for heritage conservation. More than a hundred monuments now enjoy permanent statutory protection. About a thousand other historic buildings are under government monitoring and a gradually increasing number of them are being successfully preserved through the provision of economic incentives, such as maintenance grants.

In 2007, we brought together our experience in heritage protection over the previous decades in our Policy Statement and redoubled our efforts in the protection of our built heritage through a sustainable approach with due regard to, among others, development needs in the public interest and respect for private property rights. As in all vibrant cities, conservation and development often pose hard choices.  When different interests, property rights and divergent aspirations collide, it often appears to be a mission impossible to resolve them to the satisfaction of all parties. Hong Kong has embraced the practice of continuous public engagement as a tool to tackle differences. In this process, we are grateful to our partners such as the Antiquities Advisory Board and the Advisory Committee on Revitalisation of Historic Buildings, who are instrumental in enriching our public engagement process and helping us reach out to the community at all levels, from laymen to experts.  

The public engagement process is not painless, and certainly requires much time and effort. But when we witness the successful outcome of proposals to conserve, for example, the Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road or the adoption of the "complete conservation" approach to Wing Lee Street, the time and effort are clearly worthwhile. And in fact, we cannot afford not to go through the public engagement process, which is often the first step to secure community support for any conservation proposal. Dissenting voices may still linger - this is an inevitable fact of life - but through a robust public engagement process we can hopefully achieve a consensus of opinion.

Looking further ahead, we are conducting a review of our heritage conservation policy with a view to moving forward to the next level. This conference serves as a timely reminder for us all that as we progress, we must reaffirm our commitment to heritage conservation and revitalise our strategy and tactics to resolve the perennial conflicts between conservation aspirations and development needs. It gives us a good opportunity to do a bit of soul-searching regarding what price the community as a whole is prepared to pay to uphold our built heritage.  We need to tackle key issues, such as, under a constitutional guarantee of private property rights, what methods are most suitable to safeguard our heritage? What sort of economic incentives might we use to gain the assistance of private property owners? Is a "heritage trust" a sustainable way to finance heritage conservation, and if so, how far should the public purse be expected to finance the trust? Is the Revitalisation Scheme already doing a fine job, and do we have other tools to complement the current initiatives?  These are some of the questions we need to consider.

I believe that heritage conservation and development is not a zero sum game, and there is ample common ground for the Hong Kong community to work with. In that context, this gathering of international experts and key local stakeholders provides a great opportunity for experience sharing, and I'm sure will also offer plenty of ideas to help us move forward.  

Without further ado, I wish you all a fruitful conference over the next two days and I hope our speakers from overseas have a pleasant stay in Hong Kong.  

Thank you.

Ends/Friday, November 29, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:49