Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
Dear Hong Kong Citizens,
As you may have noticed, the grade one historic building in Tuen Mun known as the Hung Lau has been put into the spotlight recently due to the damages that it has sustained by developers. The attitude and efficiency the H.K. government exhibited (after the damages were known) was totally unacceptable, and calls into question how effective our current heritage conservation policy is in protecting historic monuments.
The Hung Lau, which means "Red House" in Cantonese, is historically important as it is said to be linked to Dr. Sun Yat-sen during the Chinese republican revolutionary days. Yet, trees surrounding the Hung Lau were chopped down, parts of the walls surrounding the building were torn down, even the water supply was cut off forcefully in February. I visited the site with Tuen Mun local residents as soon as I knew about these damages, and saw no sign that such work would stop. I wrote to Secretary of Development Eric Ma immediately, requesting him to declare the Hung Lau a ‘proposed monument’ under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. On 1st of March, Antiquities Advisory Board, abbreviated as AAB, stated that it would not declare the building a ‘proposed monument’, and that it would only declare it as such, only if it should sustain any further damages in the future, a decision I find ill-informed and completely unreasonable. On 8th of March, multiple windows of Hung Lau were damaged and only then did the Antiquities and Monuments Office declare it a ‘proposed monument’. The way how things turned out not only showed how incapable the government is when protecting historic monuments, it also shows how little significance is attached to heritage conservation.
When a building that has not been declared a monument is about to be demolished, such work could only take place after permission from "Building Department" or "Lands Department" under the "Building Ordinance" (Cap12) and "Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance". However, as seen in the case of the Hung Lau, when damages were reported and demolishing work started to take place, the only action taken by the authorities was Building Department issuing a Notice and putting it in an obvious spot, which fails to act as a deterrent. Lessons learnt from past examples have also shown the unavoidably repeated fate of demolition even if the monuments were given a grade one status, like that of Queen’s Pier and Star Ferry Pier. It is also worth mentioning that Ho Tung Gardens and the Complex of King Yin Lei at Stubbs Road were also granted a "proposed monument" status after they were damaged, which further demonstrates the government’s incapability of protecting ungraded historical buildings.
The Chief Executive appoints the chairman and members of the board of AAB (Antiquities Advisory Board), which explains why its members are all his supports and confidants, making the Broad as a consultative panel full of politicians and businessmen. Only four members of the board have archaeological and historical backgrounds, the rest of them are from fields such as planning, accounting, politics and information and technology. This undoubtedly questions the legitimacy of AAB Antiquities Advisory Board. Moreover, under such leadership, discussions inside Antiquities Advisory Board are inevitably driven by development and business interests. Heritage conservation is an important step towards achieving sustainable development, but such goal seems more difficult to achieve when the effectiveness of Antiquities Advisory Board is hampered by the way the CE appoints its members.
To ensure that buildings with historical significance are protected, the Historic Buildings Grading System should be added into the jurisdiction of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, This would prevent private property owners from tearing down any buildings of historical value, and ensure that buildings that are not declared a monument could also be protected. In addition, the Antiquities and Monuments Office should increase its transparency and accountability by allowing public participation and the nomination of representatives from the corresponding fields. Lastly, the government should also consider setting up an Architectural Heritage Fund that is responsible for conserving historic buildings and monuments.
Even though the Hung Lau is currently declared a ‘proposed monument', the building is only safe for a year. Thus, I hope the building will be declared a monument, so that the public can know more about the building and its history in the future. Like many fellow citizens, I also hope the publicity this series of events has generated can help raise the public’s awareness to Hong Kong’s heritage conservation policy.