Secretary for Development's speech at a ceremony to commemorate the declaration of Maryknoll Convent School as a monument (English only)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the ceremony at Maryknoll Convent School in Kowloon Tong on May 17 to commemorate the declaration of the school as a monument:

Sister (Jeanne) Houlihan, Father (Ferdinand) Lok, Mr (Edward) Ho, Mrs. (Lydia) Huang, Ms (Melanie) Lee, Mrs. (Josephine) Lo, distinguished guests, parents, students, alumnae, ladies and gentlemen,

It really gives me great pleasure to be here today to join you in commemorating the 71st Anniversary of the school building of Maryknoll Convent School.

As early as the 1920's, the Maryknoll Sisters started the worthy mission in providing quality education affordable to all. Teachers of the School have been most successful in developing the potentials of the students to the full and in shaping a fine character among them. The School has nourished generations of successful women for Hong Kong who excel themselves in all walks of life, including many distinguished colleagues of mine in the Hong Kong Government.

Apart from all these, Maryknoll Convent School, from today onwards, should be proud for one more reason. The school building (including the Primary Section and the Convent) has just joined the league of some 80 historic private buildings in Hong Kong as declared monument. In my capacity as the Antiquities Authority under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Cap. 53), after consultation with the Antiquities Advisory Board chaired by Mr Edward Ho and with the approval of the Chief Executive himself, I have published a gazette notice yesterday for the declaration of the school building as a monument.

I am sure that I need not emphasise more about the special characteristics of the history and architectural beauty and elegance of these impressive historic buildings at the Maryknoll campus. I actually visited the school a few months ago. The cornerstone was laid by Sir Andrew Caldecott, the then Governor of Hong Kong, in 1937. The oldest part of the campus (which is now the Primary Section) was built in 1937, and the free neo-Tudor style of this school complex reflects several different styles of architecture. Such a combination is really rare in Hong Kong and most interesting among our school architecture. Further to the historical and architectural significance, another very important element contributing to the heritage value of a historic building is the social value associated with it. The campus of Maryknoll Convent School has provided a pleasant and artistic atmosphere for nourishing talents for Hong Kong. The contribution of the School has been widely recognised by our community. The quality education provided by the School has certainly added further value to the historic significance of the campus.

Ever since becoming the Secretary for Development almost a year ago, the subject of heritage conservation has been very close to my heart and I have been dealing with quite a large number of heritage buildings, many of which caught the headlines of our newspapers ranging from King Yin Lei to Wan Chai Market, from Central Police Station to Nga Tsin Wai Village, the Blue House and Jessville, which appeared in the papers today. For many of these buildings, unlike the Maryknoll Convent School, the declaration process is full of contention and controversy. And I do not blame people who remain very critical of our work on heritage conservation because in an important subject like heritage conservation, we still have a few very important questions that we need to address. Many people are very skeptical and doubtful about whether, in the light of developers’ pressure, development and heritage preservation can actually co-exist. They are also doubtful whether heritage preservation means terminating the life of an existing historic building and whether heritage conservation can only be achieved at the expense of the property rights of the private owners. And if that does happen, what is the extent of compensation that we need to incur from public funds. I am particularly pleased that the case of Maryknoll has been extremely useful in demonstrating my thought, what meaningful heritage conservation could mean.

First of all, development and conservation do not necessarily come into conflict. In the case of this School, while new buildings have been constructed within the campus at different stages over time, the original taste of the older buildings has not been diminished as a result of these later developments. These new buildings have not only catered for the ongoing expansion of the School to meet its development needs and of course the needs of students, they have also injected new elements of life into the environment. Maryknoll is indeed one of the finest examples demonstrating how new buildings and old buildings can be combined without disturbing its original harmony.

Second, heritage conservation does not necessarily mean ending the useful life of the historic building or fossilising it. The case of Maryknoll clearly demonstrates this point. The Government House where our Chief Executive is currently working and living is another good example. While preservation of the building in its original form under its original use would be highly desirable, the constant flow of users into the historic building - giving it elements of life and continuing its useful lifespan - is actually the most important feature. Only if the existing use could not be sustained or is found no longer suitable, should we explore alternative uses for historic buildings through revitalisation and adaptive re-use; and this is exactly what we are doing in the scheme that we have launched to invite proposals from non-governmental organisations to help revitalise seven Government-owned historic buildings.

Third, heritage conservation does not necessarily mean that the property rights of the owners have to be compromised. The case of Maryknoll today is an excellent example of how effective conservation of Hong Kong’s heritage can be achieved through the cooperation between Government and the private owners and users of the historic buildings. The School continues to enjoy the benefits of quality education at the historic buildings, the students continue to enjoy the fine learning environment here and at the same time our built heritage is preserved for the benefit of the community at large. Government will support the School in future building maintenance and public education relating to this monument. This is a win-win-win situation for the School, the Government and the public.

Some people say that Hong Kong does not have a long history and hence, come to the wrong conclusion that the need for heritage conservation should be rather limited. I disagree with this saying and the recent visit that I made to the United Kingdom earlier this week confirms my conviction that that sort of conclusion is not right. During my four days in the United Kingdom, I and my colleagues went to see a number of historic buildings. On almost every occasion, I could find a similarly fine example in Hong Kong. Being in the United Kingdom, we went to see the Oxford Castle, which is prison turned into hotel and entertainment; and in Hong Kong, we have right in the heart of Central, the Central Police Station and the Victoria Prison. We went to see the Camden Town market, which was converted from a horse hospital; and here, not far away from the School, in Ma Tau Wai, we have this wonderful cattle depot which could be readily turned into an arts village. We also went to see and dine at the Borough Market. There are famous fruit markets in London and here, again, not very far from here, we have the Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market. All these three examples are actually graded with the help of the Antiquities Advisory Board as Hong Kong's historic assets.

While many of our historic buildings have only been constructed after Hong Kong's development as a colony since the middle of the 19th Century, we should not be humbled by the factor of age alone. In the case of Maryknoll Convent School, you are now celebrating the 71st Anniversary of the oldest building on campus in 2008. In less than thirty years' time, you will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the building in 2037. Don't be frightened by this figure, as many of the students sitting over there will be only in your mid-thirties to forties by then. Going forward, if we continue to exercise diligence in the preservation of the buildings, they can well last hundreds of years and as I have seen in the United Kingdom, be well treasured by our future generations. As we continue to develop Hong Kong into an international financial centre and a World City of China, we can at the same time make Hong Kong famous for our conservation of Hong Kong's past.

Dear students of Maryknoll, perhaps you have heard the saying that "the present generation does not own the world, instead, we are only a guardian of the world for our future generations". In other words, the adults today have inherited the existing built heritage from our predecessors, and we have a duty to preserve it for the benefit and enjoyment of our present as well as our future generations. Girls, you are our future generation, and we have a duty to preserve our built heritage for you and for your enjoyment. You are gifted to have the opportunity to receive a fine education at this beautiful campus, and I am sure you will be proud of your campus and will make good memories of it. However, as and when you grow up and graduate from the School, and sooner or later you will become pillars of society, please also remember that heritage conservation will have to go on for ever and ever and it cannot come about without your active participation. Heritage conservation is a worthy cause that needs the contribution of everyone in society. Only if we work together diligently can we sustain our built heritage in Hong Kong and pass it on to subsequent generations.

Last but not least, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Maryknoll Sisters, particularly Sister Jeanne, and the management of Maryknoll Convent School and Maryknoll Convent School Foundation, as well as all those who have contributed to the preservation of the historic buildings and the monument declaration process that has been undertaken so smoothly. You have set a shining example of a socially responsible owner joining hands with the Government in preserving the built heritage.

Thank you very much.