Statement by Secretary for Development after the meeting of the Antiquities Advisory Board

Following is the statement made by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, after the meeting of the Antiquities Advisory Board today (January 25):


At this afternoon’s meeting, the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) considered the Administration’s recommendations on the preservation of three historic buildings. The board has supported my plan, acting in my capacity as the Antiquities Authority, to declare King Yin Lei and the Maryknoll Convent School as Monuments under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. The board has endorsed that Jessville at 128 Pok Fu Lam Road does not meet the threshold of Monument and its Proposed Monument declaration should be withdrawn. Members were also pleased to note the positive progress made by the Development Bureau in the past few months in discussing preservation options with the respective owners of King Yin Lei and Jessville. Let me outline to you these developments.

The campus of Maryknoll Convent School at 130 Waterloo Road was constructed in 1937. It is an historic building with very special characteristics. Recently, with the full support of the school, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) conducted an assessment on the heritage value of this historic building. As a result, the AMO has confirmed that its heritage value has reached the high threshold of declaration as a Monument.

As the Antiquities Authority, I accepted AMO’s recommendation and accordingly, as provided for under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, sought AAB’s advice. AAB unanimously supported the declaration and was pleased to note that Government has obtained the written consent of the owner of the site to declare the building as a Monument. In other words, the school authority also agreed to declare the school as a Monument. After obtaining the AAB’s consent, we will now take the necessary follow-up action for declaring the school as a Monument.

I visited the school campus during its open day last December. Chairman Ho also visited the school several times. We learnt that the school has been well-preserved I wish to thank the supervisor and principal of the Maryknoll Convent School and all concerned for setting a good example of a socially responsible owner joining with Government in preserving historic buildings for the benefit of the present and future generations. We will support the school in future building maintenance and public education work relating to this monument.

I now turn to King Yin Lei which has been the subject of great public concern since I invoked the ordinance to declare it as a Proposed Monument on September 15, 2007, in order to protect it from the immediate threat of demolition. Since then, the development of King Yin Lei has aroused both media and public attention. The Government has been taking various actions in these few months in confirming the historic value of King Yin Lei as well as exploring feasible options for its restoration and preservation.

We briefed AAB members at their meeting today on the results of the comprehensive assessment which confirm the high historic value of King Yin Lei and the good prospects of restoring the building. The assessment was done by AMO with the assistance of Professor Tang Guo-hua of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning of Guangzhou University, as recommended by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. Professor Tang has briefed the AAB members today and will also meet the media later. The AAB has endorsed our proposal to declare King Yin Lei as a Monument. The declaration will cover the entire site including the main building, the gardens, the pagoda, etc. Although the 12-month period of the Proposed Monument declaration will not lapse until this September, we will now proceed to take action to declare King Yin Lei as a Monument after obtaining AAB’s support and endorsement.

On restoration, Professor Tang has advised that the damage to KYL could be restored. On this front, I have informed AAB that the owner has confirmed, through his representatives, his agreement to carry out and fund the restoration works of King Yin Lei under the supervision of AMO.

The Government’s heritage conservation policy recognises the need for economic incentives in order to encourage and facilitate private owners to preserve historic buildings in their ownership. After several rounds of discussion which I attended, , we have now reached an understanding with the owner on a preservation option. Under the proposed arrangement, the owner will surrender the whole site of King Yin Lei (including the main building, the gardens, the pagoda, etc) to the Government, while the Government will grant an adjacent site of roughly the same size as 45 Stubbs Road (about 4,700 m2) to the owner for new residential developments. You can see from the photograph that the green area represents the whole lot of the existing King Yin Lei. It is about 4,705 m2 . This area will be handed over to the Government as a Monument. We will grant an adjacent site of man-made slope of about 4,700 m2 as an exchange. The development parameter is the same as the Residential (C) 1 zone on the Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) where King Yin Lei is located, i.e. a plot ratio of 0.5 and not more than three storeys in height. The land exchange is under the same development parameter as King Yin Lei

The site we are considering granting is a man-made slope with slope stabilisation works started in 2002 to the west of King Yin Lei. It has limited vegetation and is currently zoned as “Green Belt” under the OZP. However, you can see that even in the photo taken yesterday, the site is not fully planted with trees. It is just a man-made slope with basically no trees. The owner plans to construct five residential houses on the new site and the total permissible GFA will be the same as the King Yin Lei site. The proposed development will not adversely affect the density, traffic load, landscape and greenery of the area. As the proposed development involves rezoning from “Green Belt” to “Residential (C) 1, approval from the Town Planning Board is required. It is also subject to agreement by the concerned departments in accordance with the established procedures. We will stress transparency and openness during the whole process and will also consult the Legislative Council. Eventually, the land exchange has to be decided by the Chief Executive in Council.

Once King Yin Lei comes under government ownership and becomes a Monument, we will consult the public and devise proposals for its revitalisation. Our guiding principle is to put King Yin Lei to adaptive re-use and turn it into an attraction for local residents as well as tourists.

I consider King Yin Lei a very important milestone in Hong Kong’s heritage preservation work and in finding the right balance between conserving historic buildings and respecting private property rights. I hope this can set a reference for our future efforts in heritage conservation.

Now let me come to the last of the three cases - Jessville - which is located at 128 Pok Fu Lam Road. This building was declared as a Proposed Monument by the Antiquities Authority on April 20, 2007, to protect the building from immediate threat of demolition and to allow 12 months for comprehensive consideration on whether it should be declared a Monument. Before its declaration as a Proposed Monument, the AMO had not been able to gain access to the building nor establish a direct dialogue with the building’s owner. After it was declared as a Proposed Monument, we obtained the owner’s consent and entered the building to conduct detailed inspection and assessment of the building for several months. In the past, we could only study the building outside; now we can enter the building and with the information provided by the owner, we can know more about the historical significance and value of the building and its owner. After these works, AMO’s comprehensive assessment is that while the building is of some historic value, it does not reach the required high threshold for declaration as a Monument. At today’s meeting, the AAB agreed with my intention to withdraw the Proposed Monument. AAB has immediately started the grading work and decided to give the building a Grade III status.

In the past few months, Government has maintained close contact with the owner to explore different preservation options. I am very pleased to know that even though we have withdrawn the building’s status as Proposed Monument, we have been informed by the owner recently that even if Government does not intend to declare the building as a Monument, the owner still aims to preserve rather than demolish Jessville. The owner’s intention is to pursue residential development while at the same time preserving the historic building. The owner has already made a planning application to the Town Planning Board with a view to conserving heritage during development. The Development Bureau will assist as necessary in view of the owner’s intention to preserve the historic building, which is in line with the current heritage conservation policy.

In his 2007-08 Policy Address, the Chief Executive said that the SAR Government would press ahead with heritage preservation work in the next five years. I am pleased to report that we have made good progress in the past few months on various fronts of our initiatives. Today is a very productive day and I wish to thank Chairman Ho and AAB and all concerned in the three projects in giving us their utmost support.

Ends/Friday, January 25, 2008