LC: Secretary for Development's concluding speech in motion debate to repeal Antiquities and Monuments (Withdrawal of Declaration of Proposed Monument) (128 Pok Fu Lam Road) Notice

Following is the English translation of the concluding speech by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the debate on the motion proposed by the Hon Audrey Eu to repeal the Antiquities and Monuments (Withdrawal of Declaration of Proposed Monument) (No.128 Pok Fu Lam Road) Notice in the Legislative Council today (April 9):

I would like to thank Members for their views in the debate. In particular, I am most delighted to note that some Members recognised that colleagues of the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) had carried out professional and independent assessment work. With the support of AMO for carrying out its work in a professional and independent manner, I am able to fulfil my role as the Antiquities Authority and implement Government’s heritage conservation policy thoroughly. First of all, regarding the comment of the Hon Alan Leong that I was aggrieved and upset during my speech, I would like to clarify that it was totally not the feeling at my heart. Perhaps, my speech might be a bit long and hence the Hon Alan Leong would have such a perception. In fact, no matter being a civil servant in the Administrative Service before, or a politically accountable officer since July last year, I have never considered that the interchange, communication and debate with Members at the Legislative Council would be an unpleasant job. Actually, as the Hon Alan Leong had said, things are made clearer after debates. I will continue to adopt a humble working attitude to work together with Members in the coming four years.

In response to Members’ comments, I would like to make some clarifications, especially in response to the comments raised by the Hon Lee Wing-tat. Unfortunately, he is not in the Chamber at this moment. The Hon Lee Wing-tat questioned why Government supported the “preservation-cum-development” options put forward by the owners of the building. He seemed to doubt whether we were too generous to the owners and whether the public’s right to enjoyment proposed by the owners was too low, such that Government had sacrificed conservation for development. I do not agree with these views. The site of the building indeed has redevelopment potential. The lot lies within “Residential (Group C)” zone in the approved Pok Fu Lam Outline Zoning Plan, a maximum of plot ratio of 3 would be permitted. With a plot ratio of only about 0.2, the permissible development density of the building has not yet been fully utilised from any development point of view. Nonetheless, there may be plenty of reasons why the building has been left vacant since 1970’s and has not undergone any redevelopment till now, and I am not the position to make a guess. One of the factors can be the fact that the development of the site is restricted by the Pok Fu Lam Moratorium, as mentioned by the Hon Lee Wing-tat just now. However, the owners are still free to explore with relevant Government departments at any time redevelopment of the site through land lease modification, with a view to capitalising on the maximum redevelopment potential of the site. In the course of conservation, we must at the same time respect the private property right of the owners.

However, one of the points raised the Hon Lee Wing-tat was wrong. He said that we had supported the development density proposed in the rezoning application put forward by the owners of the building to the Town Planning Board, which suggested increasing the development density to the maximum with plot ratio of about 3. The development proposals are put forward at the owners’ initiative, which is not an agreement of the Development Bureau with them. In fact, we have not and we may not support such development density of plot ratio of 3. Unlike the case of King Yin Lei, we had not reached any agreement with the owners on the option of preservation and development. I withdrew the declaration of proposed monument based on AMO’s professional report, and there is no connection with the intention of the owners. What happened next was the submission of several development proposals by the owners to the Town Planning Board. Similar to all other planning applications, the Town Planning Board will decide on the rezoning application from the owners of Jessville based on all relevant planning considerations, including comments of relevant bureaux and departments, views from district (as the Southern District Council had given its views on the case as understood by the Hon Lee Wing-tat) as well as the merits of the case. The Town Planning Board is an independent statutory body. From my position as the policy bureau for heritage conservation, I would like to make a few points. First, among the various options proposed, we support an option which can achieve “preservation-cum-development” and we hope that both areas can be given equal emphasis. Second, we do not support the option of demolition of Jessville. Of the four options, one option is to demolish the building and we do not support this option. We support limited opening of the building to the public. We do not support to enlarge this lot extensively such as the option involving encroachment of the lot at No.128 Pok Fu Lam Road upon the adjacent Green Belt. Among these four options, it is obvious that there is one option which does not involve any enlargement of the lot and can still meet the balance of preservation and development. As I just mentioned, we should give consideration to the fact that the development density of this lot is only a plot ratio of 0.2.

Going forward, we will certainly express our views to the Town Planning Board from our heritage conservation perspective. But the Town Planning Board would not purely focus on heritage conservation aspect. It is because implementation of heritage conservation cannot overrule all other aspects, such as traffic considerations. The question of the Pok Fu Lam Moratorium is precisely on whether extra traffic loading can be borne by the district, and the Town Planning Board will finally make an independent decision having regard to the equal emphasis on and balanced consideration of heritage conservation policy support as well as traffic factors. This decision cannot be influenced by myself in the capacity of the Secretary for Development.

The building was only accorded a Grade III status. Our guiding principle is to preserve as far as possible. However, I must convey to Members that since it is not a monument, it will not be under statutory protection and we cannot enforce any preservation for it. However, under a new opportunity, the opportunity offered by the new heritage conservation policy, I am allowed to have a certain flexibility to discuss with the owners on economic incentives. Such economic incentive includes facilitation to promote its conservation and development. The may not necessarily be transfer of plot ratio or exchange by cash. I believe that Members who have experience on development understand that facilitation can be more important than cash or extra plot ratio. Recently, there are many examples demonstrating that we if we can protect some old buildings, we do not necessarily declare them as monuments. Under the heritage conservation policy, with the support from various stakeholders including this Council, we have reached a preservation cum development option with emphasis on preservation was achieved for the Old Wan Chai Market (which was accorded Grade III status) even though contract has already been signed for the developer to demolish the building and redevelop the site. Over 60% of Wan Chai Market will be preserved, even though it is only a Grade III building. A step further is those pre-war Cantonese verandah-type shophouses mentioned in the Chief Executive’s Policy Address, many of them have not yet been graded. You may have recently heard that the Urban Renewal Authority will adopt preservation schemes to preserve them. Therefore, it is not necessary to invite experts to upgrade the status of the buildings or declare them as monuments for us to preserve them as suggested by the Hon Yeung Sum. It is because we have a boarder view on heritage conservation nowadays.

Making a further step, as the Hon Lee Wing-tat has raised just now, if the owners aim to demolish the building again, say if the owners submit an application for demolition to the Buildings Department tomorrow, will I reinitiate the power of proposed monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance? My answer is no. The reason for a “no” answer is that we have now completed a comprehensive assessment, and considered that the building has not reached the high threshold and indisputable historical significance required for monuments. If a law can be played around by an official like this to stop someone from carrying out some lawful acts, I think it would not be accepted by the Council and the community at large. This would also be contrary to the three major principles mentioned in the land policy recently – certainty, stability and uniformity.

As regards the many other comments raised by Members during this debate, I have in fact noticed that the speech by the Hon Alan Leong was no longer relating to this particular case, and he had mentioned many other comments on how to improve and strengthen our heritage conservation policy. I totally agree with this direction and I welcome more opportunities to exchange views with Members in this aspect in future. In particular, regarding the change in the system, the Hon Alan Leong had mentioned the term which we have often used internally – our current strategy is that “no action if our enemy does not make any move”. We have in fact systematised the spirit of “no action if our enemy does not make any move”, and have instructed the Buildings Department to inform us once it receive any application for demolition, so that we can see what actions we can take. This may not be a very ideal way, but in the light of the many tasks under heritage conservation we are working on, we hope that Members could give us some more time, and we will try our best to consider how to improve this system. As regards the proposal of Hon Alan Leong to set up an independent trust fund for heritage conservation, our stance is in fact very clear and direct. As agreed by the Chief Executive in Council, we have in principle accepted that the direction of heritage conservation in Hong Kong is towards the form of a trust fund. In terms of timing, as set out in our submission to the Legislative Council, it would not take place until several years from now as there are really many tasks in front of us, and this proposal would not be possible unless there is a strong and visionary government. Hence time would be required for us to complete the current tasks in the coming years first. However, when we implement these current tasks, we would not go the wrong way and would not introduce problems for the setting up of this trust fund in future. This is the point that I have clarified to the Hon Alan Leong at the Special Finance Committee meeting the other day.

Madam President, Members of the Council, I hope that I have fully addressed your concerns over this case (No. 128 Pok Fu Lam Road) after all the debates we have. Particularly, I would like to point out that to repeal a Legal Notice that enjoys the status as a subsidiary legislation is a serious and important matter, and I firmly believe that Members here would give careful deliberation before making a decision.

Thank you Madam President.

Ends/Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Issued at HKT 23:03