Historical site for tender before being classified

HONG KONG: The government is putting a historic site up for tender as a preservation project before it has been decided whether or not it should be declared a monument. As a result, experts and a member of the heritage advisory body said officials are setting a bad example and inviting controversy.

Proposals were invited in March for turning the Hollywood Road married police quarters into a creative industry "landmark" as one of the eight projects in the plan dubbed Conserving Central, announced by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his policy address.

But the Antiquities and Monuments Office is still assessing the historical importance of the site, comprising two vacant buildings and the remains of the Central School, founded at the site in 1889.

A vetting committee has already shortlisted two bids for final scrutiny and the winner will take a 10-year tenancy to set up a showcase for creative industries.

Professor Simon Shen Xu-hui, a member of the Antiquities Advisory Board, said the grading of a historical building was important. "Otherwise, why do we need grading? As a board member, I believe the normal way is they let us finish our job before they issue their tender."

"It is the tail wagging the dog," Woo Pui-leng, an associate professor at the Chinese University's school of architecture, said. "I wonder how the government prepared the tender document without having a full picture of the historical value of the site. It weakens the legitimacy of the tendering exercise."

But the Development Bureau, which tendered the site with the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, said the grading was not a pre-requisite for inviting revitalisation proposals. It said a detailed set of conservation guidelines prepared by the antiquities office had been incorporated in the proposal invitation documents.

The short-listed bids are from the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation, set up by Sino Land executive director Daryl Ng Win-kong, and the Musketeers Education and Culture Charitable Foundation, formed by Hong Kong Economic Times Holdings chairman Lawrence Fung Siu-por.

The site was saved from full-scale redevelopment after the remains of the school — which educated some of Hong Kong's best-known figures, including the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen — were found.

Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Bernard Chan said the experts would be "working at full steam" to complete the assessment. "I will call a meeting to discuss the assessment report once I have it in my hands. The assessment process will be completed before the government awards the project," said Chan, who is also chairman of the vetting committee.

Ma Ngok, an associate professor at the Chinese University's political science department, said the government was inviting controversy.

"But of course, if they get it done quietly, it is likely they will use the same method on the development of other historical buildings," he said, adding that it showed heritage conservation relied more on political considerations than professional decisions.

The conservation guidelines call on the proponents to make every effort to preserve the appearance of the historical structure.

Additions and alterations should be made at the back or other visually less prominent locations and the original facades should generally be left unaltered.

Chan is confident the government's actions will not jeopardise conservation of the site. "The conservation plan the government has now drawn up gives the site even better protection than it could get by becoming a monument." He also says the ultimate grading of the site will not affect the tender result. — South China Morning Post
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