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Old March 11th, 2010, 12:31 PM   #261
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Battle lines drawn to save Wing Lee Street tenements
8 March 2010
South China Morning Post

First it was "Wedding Card Street" in Wan Chai - now the battle against the Urban Renewal Authority wrecking ball is being waged at Wing Lee Street in SoHo, Central.

Two weeks before a redevelopment project for the area is due to be discussed at the Town Planning Board, Katty Law Ngar-ning, leading the Central and Western Concern Group, is making a final effort to save the old tenements from demolition.

The film Echoes of the Rainbow, which was shot in Wing Lee Street and won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival last month, has revived people's interest in the old street, and fuelled Law's campaign. "People should not just come to take photos. I hope they'll come to sign our petition," she said.

Law, working with several owners who recently renovated the buildings in the redevelopment area, said the authority should withdraw the redevelopment project so that the old street scape and characteristic tenements could remain.

"If these tenements are refurbished properly, they can make attractive properties for rent or sale. There are successful examples in the SoHo district which derive good profits for owners," she said.

Law plans to write to the Antiquities Advisory Board to press for an assessment of the heritage value of the tenements in Wing Lee Street.

She said if, ideally, the authority gave in, the government should set a height restriction on such streets so that private owners would choose to renovate instead of redevelop the buildings.

The Town Planning Board has so far received 449 submissions from individuals, most of them objecting to the redevelopment. On Facebook, a group called Stop the Urban Renewal Authority from Destroying SoHo in Hong Kong has drawn more than 1,700 supporters.

An Urban Renewal Authority spokesman said the plan would remain unchanged before the Town Planning Board vets it on March 19. "The community should not make a drastic, emotional decision [asking the authority to withdraw] because of promotion gimmicks for a movie," he said.

The authority has so far acquired 40 per cent of property interests in the redevelopment area.

Its plan, covering three small sites surrounded by Staunton Street, Wing Lee Street and Aberdeen Street, has been amended several times since 2003, including on height reductions.

Nine of 12 post-war tenement buildings in Wing Lee Street, dubbed the Thirty Stone Houses, will be torn down and replaced with buildings of a similar scale. Row houses from four to 12 storeys high will replace the blocks on sloping Shing Wong Street to preserve the terrace landscape. Another two tenements in Staunton Street will be preserved and the others replaced by a 20-storey tower.

Connie Yam Oi-ting, who has run a family printing business in Wing Lee Street for more than 30 years, said she was ambivalent about the redevelopment. "As a resident and tenant, of course I want to see the houses preserved. This is such a cosy quiet place you can't find elsewhere in Central. But I also understand my landlord is waiting to sell the property to make money for her retirement," she said.
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Old March 15th, 2010, 05:40 PM   #262
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U-turn on 'star' street
The Standard
Monday, March 15, 2010



In a sign the government is getting street smart, a top official has revealed she is considering halting the controversial acquisition of a street with "star power."

Because of the changing views of the community, Development Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says she may halt the acquisition of Central's Wing Lee Street - which featured in the recent award-winning movie Echoes of the Rainbow.

In an interview with The Standard's sister newspaper Sing Tao Daily, Lam also hinted at further discussions with senior management of the Urban Renewal Authority on the need to demolish old buildings on the street while taking into consideration the requirements of landlords and tenants.

Lam is the most senior government official to hint that changes may be made to the street's development plan and the possibility that - for the first time - an acquisition project may be halted.

The authority had been adamant it would press ahead with redevelopment despite an earlier plea from Echoes of the Rainbow director Alex Law Kai-yui that the whole street be preserved.

The quaint street, comprising 12 tong-laus, or traditional Chinese tenement buildings, was used as the location for the 1960s-era movie, which won the Crystal Bear award for best feature film at the Berlin Film Festival last month.

Lam said that when the authority released a revised proposal to keep three tong-laus and redevelop the rest in late 2008, the feedback was positive. "But surprisingly, society has
changed its views and people are now insisting on conserving all 12 tong-laus," Lam said.

Lam urged the public to be less aggressive and emotional as Wing Lee Street is only a part of the redevelopment project, which comprises three sites.

The authority has so far secured 40 percent of the ownership of premises in the area but as the deadline for owners to reply has not expired, there may be legal implications should the resumption be halted ahead of time, Lam said.

The authority's plan for the Staunton Street-Wing Lee Street area is still pending approval from the Town Planning Board. It also does not have any partner from the private sector as yet.

In November 2008, the authority suggested that a proposed 24-story building behind Bridges Street Market at the corner of Shing Wong and Wing Lee streets be shrunk to six stories. It also proposed lowering the plot ratio.

The revised project was expected to result in losses of HK$170 million because of the drastic drop in the number of flats from 216 to 130.

Since Lam took over as development secretary, she has responded quickly to the public's conservation needs.

In September 2007, she moved to quell public outrage when demolition work began at King Yin Lei, a traditional Chinese-style mansion at 45 Stubbs Road, Wan Chai.

The government later exchanged a plot of land with the owner to preserve the 1937 mansion.

Meanwhile, about 10 conservationists gathered at Wing Lee Street yesterday calling for its preservation.

"The tong-laus are very precious and all 12 should be preserved. Keeping the last few units on the street would just be a token consolation," Central and Western Concern Group convener Katty Law Ngar-ning said.
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Old March 23rd, 2010, 10:39 AM   #263
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URA members question decision on saving Wing Lee Street
18 March 2010
South China Morning Post

Urban Renewal Authority board members said the authority's new proposal to preserve Wing Lee Street in Sheung Wan was rushed and there had been no discussion of the rationale behind it.

On Tuesday, URA chairman Barry Cheung Chun-yuen announced a new alternative to preserve Wing Lee Street, under which all its 12 tenements would be spared demolition. The original plan, which involved preserving only three tenements, was to have been discussed by the Town Planning Board tomorrow.

URA board members said a meeting of its conservation committee on March 2 agreed to push forward with the original plan. They said the authority's management had then issued them a paper on Monday, and asked them to decide immediately whether or not to authorise the management to submit the alternative proposal to preserve all the blocks.

"[At the meeting] everyone agreed the buildings did not much have character," board member Wong Kwok-kin said. "And the site does not carry deep historic value. So we agreed some development and revitalisation would be enough."

Wong questioned whether the decision to change the plan was linked to a film, Echoes of the Rainbow, which was shot on the street and won an award at the Berlin International Film Festival last month. He also asked by what standards the decision was made.

Another board member, Tanya Chan, who had proposed saving the whole street, said there was no follow-up after she received the paper on the alternative plan. "The details were not known to me until Tuesday," she said. The alternative was a big change from the original plan and a URA board meeting should have been held before the new proposal was handed to the Town Planning Board.

The alternative is seen as a bow to pressure from the public and conservationists to preserve the street, the last complete street of tong lau - tenements from the early post-war years that were once very common.

A URA spokesman said the alternative was an extension to the original plan.

The URA management held that it should submit a feasible and well-received alternative to the Town Planning Board after reviewing the situation early this month, the spokesman said. The management asked the board for authorisation to handle the case flexibly because there was an urgent need for them to come up with an alternative, which would involve a lot technical decisions, before tomorrow, when the Town Planning Board was to discuss the original plan. It had received authorisations from most board members, he said.

The government and the authority deny the plan marks a U-turn.

The authority has bought half the 24 property interests in Wing Lee Street but will not buy any more if the alternative plan is adopted. Owners of the nine tenements not in URA hands will be asked to preserve and refurbish them.
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Old April 11th, 2010, 09:38 AM   #264
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Heritage activist wants to preserve Central for the people, not the developers
5 April 2010
SCMP

It is unlikely that tranquil Wing Lee Street and the 12 tenement houses standing on it for more than half a century would have escaped the Urban Renewal Authority's bulldozers if film producer Mabel Cheung Yuen-ting had not made a public appeal for their conservation.

Cheung said the street in Sheung Wan was the only place in the city she could use for her film, Echoes of the Rainbow, that was set in 1960s Hong Kong.

But before Cheung came along, a housewife turned conservationist was already working tirelessly to protect the houses from being demolished for lucrative redevelopment. Katty Law Ngar-ning started a movement to preserve old Central five years ago. And for more than two years, she and fellow activists have focused their efforts on preserving Wing Lee Street's charms.

During the shooting of her film, Cheung joined their group, the Central and Western District Concern Group, to lobby for the street's conservation.

Bounded by Ladder Street, Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Wing Lee Street is known for its terrace, an open space in front of the tenement buildings, where neighbours and children get together and relax. The terrace was a typical engineering innovation in old Hong Kong during construction of dwellings in the hilly Central and Sheung Wan districts.

While most of the terraces in the neighbourhood remain, the original buildings have long been pulled down for high-rise development, leaving Wing Lee Street and its 12 tenement houses just as it was - a rare feature in contemporary Central.

Law, the group's convenor, lobbied district councillors to hold community meetings to demand that the Urban Renewal Authority explain its redevelopment plan in detail to residents. In order to ask meaningful questions and push for satisfactory answers, she went through piles of official documents and worked with neighbours with expertise in construction.

Her efforts led to the discovery of an engineering report that advised against large-scale development in the neighbourhood to avoid endangering the structure of buildings nearby. The authority later cut 18 storeys off the first proposed 24-storey residential block on the grounds of community concern. "The URA never told us whether that decision was related to the engineering discovery," she said.

Law's passion for conservation has thrust her into the limelight; her opinion on development projects in Central is often sought by the press because she is one of several people who started the residents' movement to conserve Central.

But until five years ago, she was a full-time housewife.

Law studied social sciences at college and worked in a publishing house until 1996, when she quit to take on full-time parenting. From then till about five years ago, the mother of two counted pottery as her main hobby.

Her first experience with conservation came in 2005, when she took her daughter and son to join a campaign to save several mature trees growing beside the external wall of the Hollywood Road married police quarters. "It was a meaningful activity and I also wanted my children to have more contact with their community," she said. After saving the trees came the campaign to save the Central Police Compound.

Then Law and several neighbours, including art critic John Batten and heritage writer Roger Ho Yiu-sang, decided they should not wait for others to organise campaigns to stop their neighbourhood falling victim to excessive development. They formed the Central and Western Concern Group.

Over the years, the group has pushed for the removal from the government's land application list of the Hollywood Road police quarters and the Central Market building. Inclusion on the list is a status guaranteeing land sales, destruction and redevelopment.

Its long list of continuing campaigns includes conserving the Central Police Compound and making it a public space; upgrading the Central Market building's antiquities status and demanding that the authority come up with a conservation plan for public scrutiny before it starts renovating the historic building; preserving the 160-year-old street market at Graham and Peel streets; seeking legal guarantees that the authority's redevelopment in Staunton Street will not become another "wall effect" series of apartment blocks and demanding that tenement buildings on the street, which have already undergone private renovation, be spared from demolition.

All projects are motivated by Law's passion to conserve the neighbourhood where she grew up.

Now 43, she has lived on Caine Road since she was three. Her grandfather used to own an antique shop in Hollywood Road. She attended Sacred Heart Canossian School and graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a degree in social science. "The neighbours saw me growing up; they saw my kids growing up. We are friends. I cannot imagine not living in Central. I will never leave this place," she said.

But the Central she is madly in love with is disappearing. "Central is not only a business district. A large part of Central is home to many people and small businesses. They have been living and working in those streets for decades. This place is also rich in history. But it is facing destruction. Every day, I hear the noise of construction. I got upset, my neighbours also got upset. So we decided we had to act," she said.

Acting meant she not only had to break her routine, but also learn.

Starting from her first campaign to remove the Hollywood Road police quarters from the land application list, she learned to go through archives, approach experts, set up counters on the streets to gather signatures, speak through a loud hailer, call reporters and pitch stories to them, write to the letters pages, lobby district councillors, organise carnivals, file rezoning applications with the Town Planning Board and appeal to the Antiquities Advisory Board.

Her persistence led to excavation works at the former police quarters that uncovered 40 per cent of the foundations of the former Central School, Hong Kong's first government institution offering upper primary and secondary education. The school, set up in 1862 on Gough Street, was attended by modern China's founder, Sun Yat-sen, as a teenager. It moved to the Hollywood Road site in 1889.

Explaining her motivation, Law said: "I am not against change. Evolution and change are natural. I am against excessive development and the government's heavy-handed intervention. They round up the land and pull down the old structures. Why can't we renovate the tenement houses so the streetscape of Central will not be hurt?

"The URA says the buildings are run-down and therefore have to be demolished, but the buildings' condition is a result of the URA's plan. By announcing an area as a redevelopment zone, they are inviting the landlords to give up maintaining their buildings," she said.

"Central is rich in history and home to many people. Any changes must be done sensitively by preserving the history, the streetscape, the cultural fabric and the people's way of life. I don't believe there is only one way of redevelopment. I believe there are many ways of regenerating a historic neighbourhood."
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Old April 21st, 2010, 06:07 PM   #265
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Restoration works for Lo Pan Temple completed
Government Press Release
Tuesday, April 20, 2010







With a subsidy provided by the Commissioner for Heritage's Office of the Development Bureau, the public can now admire the 126-year-old Lo Pan Temple again upon the completion of its restoration works.

The Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, officiated at the completion ceremony today (April 20). Also present were representatives from the construction industry.

At the ceremony, Mrs Lam said that the Commissioner for Heritage's Office launched the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme in August 2008, which provides financial assistance to owners of privately owned graded historic buildings to carry out minor maintenance works, enabling appropriate preservation of historic buildings and better appreciation of the heritage value of these buildings by the public. Up to present, the maintenance scheme has received 13 applications. Nine of them have been approved, with the grants totalling around $7.2 million.

"Lo Pan Temple was the first successful application under the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme and also one of the first projects with the restoration works completed. Through the restoration works at Lo Pan Temple, we wish to enhance public understanding of conservation of historic buildings," Mrs Lam said.

Located at 15 Ching Lin Terrace, Kennedy Town, Lo Pan Temple received a grant of $711,000 for the restoration of its roof tiles, purlins and walls. Upon completion of the restoration works, Lo Pan Temple is open to the public free of charge between 9.30am and 5pm daily.

Lo Pan Temple is the only temple in Hong Kong dedicated to the worship of Lo Pan, the patron saint of Chinese builders and carpenters. According to the carvings inside the temple, it was constructed in 1884 by the Contractors' Guild with donations from people of the related trades. The temple is a two-hall structure, richly decorated with mural paintings as well as Shiwan ceramic figurines and mouldings. It was accorded Grade 1 status by the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) in 1994 and the same grading was re-confirmed by the AAB in December 2009.
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Old May 20th, 2010, 08:49 PM   #266
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LCQ3: Conservation of Wing Lee Street
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Government Press Release

Following is a question by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung Mei-fun and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 12):

Question:

The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) announced in November 2008 that a "conservation-led" redevelopment approach would be adopted for the Staunton Street/Wing Lee Street project. After the film "Echoes of the Rainbow" with scenes shot at Wing Lee Street won an award in Berlinale in late February this year, quite a number of people proposed to conserve the whole Wing Lee Street, but the Chairman of URA indicated that it was not necessary to revise the redevelopment proposal. Yet, on March 16, 2010, he suddenly put forward a new proposal to revise the number of tenement buildings to be conserved from three to all 12 of such buildings, on grounds that URA had received views from quite a number of members of the public in this regard. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that before deciding to revise the redevelopment proposal of Wing Lee Street, URA had not convened a Board meeting to discuss the matter and had only sent letters to the directors requesting them to authorise the management to deal with the matter, whether it knows if URA had adopted this arrangement due to special circumstances and if there was any precedent, and whether URA had consulted experts in conservation and history before announcing such a decision; whether it had consulted or informed the Development Bureau (DEVB); if it had consulted DEVB, of DEVB's views; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) given that the original redevelopment proposal had been proposed for more than one year since its announcement, and URA has already acquired half of the property interests on Wing Lee Street, whether it knows the reasons for URA putting forward the new proposal; during the decision-making process for the new proposal, whether URA was under any pressure from government department(s) or community organisation(s); whether the winning of an international award by the film "Echoes of the Rainbow" was crucial to the decision of URA; and

(c) given that some elderly property owners in the tenement buildings on Wing Lee Street are worried that under the new proposal, not only are they unable to sell their properties, but they also have to bear substantial costs for repair and maintenance, whether it knows if URA had considered the rights and interests of these property owners before putting forward the new proposal?

Reply:

President,

The Staunton Street/Wing Lee Street redevelopment project (H19) is one of the 25 redevelopment projects announced but yet to be commenced by the former Land Development Corporation which the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has taken over upon its establishment in 2001. The project area comprises three sites, namely Sites A, B and C. Apart from the conservation of the tenement buildings at Nos.88-90 of Staunton Street at Site B and the restoration of the stone steps at Shing Wong Street, the original proposal was basically a redevelopment-led project. During the planning process of the project, there were evident changes in the public aspirations for heritage conservation. In October 2007, the HKSAR Government announced a new policy statement on heritage conservation and a range of initiatives on conservation, including the revitalisation of the Central Police Station Compound and the Police Married Quarters site at Hollywood Road in the vicinity of the H19. The developments in recent years have directly affected the URA's consideration of the development plan for H19, in particular, Wing Lee Street at Site A. The URA had carried out a heritage assessment for the project and the consultants pointed out that preserving the existing street pattern around Wing Lee Street and Shing Wong Street would be the best way to remember the history of urban development of that community.

In view of the above-mentioned development, the URA, with the support of the Development Bureau (DEVB), announced the substantial revision of the proposal for Wing Lee Street in November 2008. Under the new proposal, a "conservation-led" approach would be adopted to implement the project covering Wing Lee Street. The original proposal of building a high-rise building on the site would be abandoned. The Bridges Street Market and the three buildings at Nos.10-12 Wing Lee Street would be conserved. Nos. 1-9 Wing Lee Street would be demolished and a row of buildings modelled on the typology, height and scale of the existing tenement buildings would be re-constructed in-situ to preserve the existing "terrace" ambience. With the revision, the plot ratio of H19 would be substantially reduced from eight to not more than 4.5, which was widely agreed and supported by the public at that time.

I have set out the background of the Wing Lee Street project in detail, because these developments are relevant to the question raised by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung Mei-fun. My reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) The URA's decision on the Wing Lee Street project in March this year was to provide an alternative way of implementation to achieve the "conservation-led" approach it put forward in November 2008, that is, one could either conserve the three old buildings at Wing Lee Street and replicate the others on the same model or conserve and rehabilitate the entire row of 12 old buildings. Basically, there is no departure from the "conservation" objective.

It is believed that the URA has put forth an alternative way of conservation after taking into account the public views (particularly those from the conservation groups and some property owners of Wing Lee Street) collected during the public consultation of the Master Layout Plan (MLP) which was prepared on the basis of the amendment proposal in 2008. According to schedule, the Town Planning Board (TPB) would discuss the MLP and the public comments received at the meeting on March 19. It is understandable that the URA decided to put forward an alternative way before the TPB meeting so as to facilitate the TPB's discussion. Given the pressing schedule, the management of the URA, with the consent of the URA Chairman and in line with the established procedures, sought and obtained the URA Board's authorisation to deal with the matter by circulation of paper.

The URA Board holds regular meetings once every six weeks on average. Under its Standing Orders, the URA may, if necessary, seek advice or approval from the Board on urgent matters by circulation of papers in between meetings. Since January 1, 2010, six papers, including the one on authorising the management of the URA to deal with the proposal on the conservation of Wing Lee Street, have been circulated to the Board for approval.

As mentioned above, during the planning process of the project, the URA appointed consultants to carry out a heritage assessment. The latest proposal, just like the one in November 2008, has the "conservation-led" approach as one of the main considerations in project planning.

After formulating its latest proposal, the URA notified the DEVB before its publication. In principle, the DEVB supports the URA in proposing an alternative way to carry out the conservation of Wing Lee Street. The URA has therefore submitted both the new and the original proposals to the TPB for consideration.

(b) As mentioned above, the URA has adopted a "conservation-led" approach as the basis of the revised proposal for Wing Lee Street since November 2008. There are different ways to carry out conservation in order to maintain the unique "terrace" ambience of Wing Lee Street. It can be the earlier proposal where the old fuses with the new or it can be the current additional proposal of "complete conservation". The latest proposal of the URA has been made in response to some of the demands in the community for a "complete conservation" of Wing Lee Street and some property owners' aspiration for direct participation in conservation.

As stated clearly by the URA Chairman at the press interview on March 16, the URA was not under any pressure from government departments or organisations when formulating the latest alternative implementation proposal. We are glad that a Hong Kong produced film has won an international award. But as mentioned above, the important decision in conserving Wing Lee Street was made in November 2008 and it was a positive response from the URA to the new policy direction as well as to the public aspirations for heritage conservation.

(c) As Wing Lee Street is still currently part of a redevelopment project already commenced by the URA, the URA has committed to continuing negotiating for property acquisition with the owners at Wing Lee Street according to its established acquisition policy and practice before the TPB agrees to excise Wing Lee Street (i.e. Site A) from the redevelopment area. The URA will also assist the tenants concerned by rehousing them in public housing or offering them cash compensation according to established compensation and rehousing policies. As it takes time to complete the standing procedures of the TPB, the property owners (owner-occupiers or otherwise) of the tenement buildings in Wing Lee Street still have time to sell their properties to the URA if they choose to do so and the affected tenants will still be rehoused or compensated.
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Old June 2nd, 2010, 06:03 PM   #267
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Central Market will not be 'too commercialised'
1 June 2010
South China Morning Post


Source : http://www.pbase.com/hpicckcy/image/102607646

Central Market will never become another posh heritage mall like the former Marine Police Headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui, Urban Renewal Authority advisers have pledged.

"The public has sent us a clear message. The market will not become a shopping centre, and it will not be too commercialised," Professor David Lung Ping-yee, who chairs the advisory community for the revitalisation project, said yesterday.

Lung was summarising findings of a questionnaire conducted by authority staff earlier this year. More than 6,000 people, including tourists, were interviewed, some in Central and some in other districts.

About 60 per cent of the interviewees said they wanted the historic market building in Des Voeux Road Central to be transformed into a leisure venue with a lot of greenery.

Half of the respondents also wanted the building to provide space for open-air performances, art exhibitions or art shops.

While dining was a less preferred option, with only 30 per cent saying they would like restaurants in the market, most respondents favoured shops selling food with a local flavour and at affordable prices.

Luxury brands were "the last thing wanted", 240 people said, while a further 540 indicated they would not want a commercialised project.

"Committee members have agreed we will not do anything like 1881 Heritage," Lung said, referring to the monument site in Tsim Sha Tsui handed over to a subsidiary of Cheung Kong, which converted it into a boutique hotel and mall.

The mix of uses would be determined at forthcoming meetings, Lung said.

The authority's managing director, Quinn Law Yee-kwan, agreed that the land uses were unlikely to generate much profit.

"But social benefits and the community's recognition of our work should also be taken into account when we talk about income," he said.

The authority has undertaken a HK$500 million project to transform the 71-year-old building into an "oasis", with open space and facilities for the community's enjoyment.

Built in 1939, the Central Market, a piece of Streamline Moderne architecture, was then the Canton Bazaar, and its design was based on the London County Council by-laws of 1915. It stopped operating in 2003.

Preliminary results of a structural survey found the existing concrete cover for the beams, slabs and columns of the structure would not satisfy today's building codes. Carbonation has also corroded the steel reinforcement in beams and slabs.

The biggest challenge of the project is to bring the building up to code. Additional work might be needed to prolong its life for another 30 years, Lung said. The whole project is expected to take about five years to complete.
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Old June 7th, 2010, 12:21 PM   #268
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Public buys idea of `oasis' market
The Standard
Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The promise that the refurbished Central Market will be an "oasis" in the urban sprawl has struck a popular chord, and is being pushed hard as a selling line for the project.
Urban Renewal Authority officials were touting that line yesterday, saying the market will be a stand-out feature on the island while commercial activities there will be limited.

David Lung Ping-yee, chairman of the Central Oasis Community Advisory Committee, assured it will truly offer a breath of fresh air. On questions about money - whether a downtown facility that is not stacked with commercial elements can pay for itself - Lung said public pleasure is more important than revenue.

Details of how much revenue can be expected at the new-look market, as well as operating costs, will be released when research is completed, he added.

On that, authority managing director Quinn Law Yee-kwan said the more money spent on reconstruction at the outset means the less will be needed to be spent later on maintenance and repairs.

The "oasis" idea was mooted by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his policy address last October, and the government is already committed to spending HK$500 million on revitalizing the 71-year-old, now-empty market on Des Voeux Road Central.

The advisory committee has more recently been sounding out people about what they want from the revitalization. Of 6,019 respondents in a street survey last month, 82 percent backed the oasis approach as the guiding theme, while more than 60 percent wanted recreational facilities, and 56 percent a green area.

An overwhelming 88 percent said they favored a transparent roof on the building.

Only 30 percent said they wanted to see restaurants and shops. Those views will be taken into account when the final call is made on facilities, Lung said.

Currently, planners are determining what they will be working with, as many structural records have been lost since Central Market rose in 1939. It is also apparent from the rust and erosion there that much of the structure needs testing before refurbishment plans can be settled, Lung said.
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Old June 18th, 2010, 04:39 PM   #269
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Institute set up to halt damage of historic sites
7 June 2010
SCMP

An institute of heritage conservationists has been formed to promote standards of practice and prevent damage of historic buildings.

As more heritage sites are put up for revitalisation and maintenance, there is no law or guideline to monitor the quality of such work, especially for privately owned sites.

The Institute of Architectural Conservationists will draw up a code of practice and a list of recommended professionals qualified to conduct restoration and alteration works to historic buildings, Dr Lee Ho-yin, director of the University of Hong Kong's architectural conservation programme, said.

"Heritage conservation is a growing field in Hong Kong. In the past, works were conducted by contractors who did not have to be supervised by professionals, and the results were often unsatisfactory," said Lee who is vice-president of the institute founded by teaching staff and alumni of the university's architectural conservation programme.

The institute will be launched in September and is expected to recognise 50 to 100 professionals in its first five years. At present, when architects and planners start work on historic buildings, they must follow a conservation plan that the Development Bureau tailors for each site. The bureau also had a list of professionals for internal reference.

But on privately owned sites, the owners decide what they want to do with their properties, unless government funding is helping to pay for the work. It is against this background that some buildings were damaged and therefore downgraded in a recent review of the historic gradings of some 1,400 sites in the city.

Tam Kung Sin Shing Temple in Shau Kei Wan, built by fishermen in 1905, was downgraded from grade one to three after a revamp in 2002.

The Tin Hau Temple in Aberdeen is another example of the damage that can be done. It was downgraded from grade two to three because of the Chinese Temples Committee's reconstruction in 1999, which removed most of the original materials except the roof ridge, stone columns and relics such as a copper bell.

Another example is the controversial revitalisation of the former Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui into a boutique hotel and shopping mall.

The developer, Cheung Kong (Holdings), had been criticised for adding a new structure to the monument, the shopping mall, resulting in visitors unable to tell which part is heritage.

Curry Tse Ching-kan, a conservation consultant for the project, conceded that when he drafted the plan in 2003, preservation was not a pritoirty in the industry. "The principle should be that new additions are easily distinguishable from the old, but it was up to the architect to interpret the plan," Tse said.

To be a recommended conservationist, the person must have completed a masters degree in conservation locally or overseas, a few years' work experience and passed examinations.

Apart from research and working out an accreditation system, the institute is also tasked to draft a charter based on international standards of practice, with a focus on the city's high land value issue, Lee said.

"We will study whether the Town Planning Board should have more legal powers to control development at heritage sites. There should be conservation zoning that covers an area instead of one block, for example," he said.

Options to adapt the use of old buildings, instead of knocking them down for wholesale redevelopment, would also be proposed, he said. The Development Bureau said it supported any initiatives towards heritage conservation.
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Old July 25th, 2010, 05:27 PM   #270
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Public pleasure, private ownership?
20 July 2010
China Daily - Hong Kong Edition

A family legacy and cultural treasure, Dragon Garden is testing the civic-minded imagination of a granddaughter. How she sees and approaches the challenge of presenting this historic site without losing it is the focus of Christopher DeWolf's report.

When Cynthia Lee Hong-yee found out that her family planned to sell her grandfather's private Hong Kong garden to developers, she returned from the United States to take photos of the lush greenery and eclectic Western-influenced Chinese architecture.

"I was capturing some of the details and I realized I just couldn't capture Dragon Garden's greatness," she said. "It has to be experienced."

She realized the garden needed to be saved - and it was up to her to do it. After a contentious battle with the relatives who owned the garden, Lee managed to persuade her uncle, Lee Shiu, to save it from redevelopment by purchasing it from his brothers and nephews for HK$100 million. The plan, after that, was to donate the garden to the government, which would then open it to the public.

That was in 2006. Since then, the garden, which is located on the shores of the Rambler Channel just west of Sham Tseng, has sat in limbo, free from the threat of demolition but with no concrete plans to restore it and open it to the public. The Lees' original offer to donate the garden was rebuffed by the government. It later changed tack and said it could take over the site, but would not guarantee how it would be used in the future.

As Hong Kong debates how best to preserve its heritage, the case of Dragon Garden poses a question that has proved surprisingly hard to answer: once you've saved an historic site, what do you do with it?

"Once you decide to keep something like this, you need a lot of money to preserve it, and there has to be some kind of public contribution to deal with it," said Lee Ho-yin, the director of the University of Hong Kong's Architectural Conservation Programme.

The problem is that Hong Kong's heritage conservation policies make little allowance for a privately-owned site whose owners want to open it to the public, he said. Roughly HK$30 million would be needed to restore Dragon Garden. While Lee Shiu is considering setting up a trust that would fund the garden's day-to-day management, Cynthia Lee said the government would need to provide money for the capital works needed to restore the garden and bring it up to code.

In 2007, the government offered to include Dragon Garden in a new revitalization scheme for historical buildings, one that also includes the Blue House in Wan Chai, a block of the former Shek Kip Mei Estate and a former police station in Tai O. In order to take part in the scheme, however, the government would need to take ownership of Dragon Garden and award its management to a non-governmental organization. The Tai O Police Station is currently being converted into a boutique hotel and the Shek Kip Mei housing estate will eventually be home to a youth hostel.

"The revitalization scheme is a step in the right direction, but it has its flaws," said Lee. "With projects like these, there's a danger that our heritage is being used for private uses. We want to open a private heritage site to the public, not vice versa."

The government's 2007 offer still stands, and Lee said her uncle will soon begin negotiating a different arrangement that would allow him to retain ownership of the site even as the government provides financial support for its restoration. In the meantime, Lee will focus on planning ways to build a future for Dragon Garden by drawing from its past.

The garden's story began with Lee Iu-cheung, who was born in Hong Kong in 1896 to a migrant family from Zhongshan, Guangdong. Lee grew up in Sheung Wan, where he witnessed some of Hong Kong's more deplorable living conditions, an experience that gave him "a lasting compassion for the poverty-stricken," according to his childhood friend Shum Wai-yau, who published a short biography of Lee in 1967.

Lee eventually became what newspapers refer to as a tycoon - a wealthy, powerful businessman with interests ranging from trucking to cinema to construction. But Lee's true passion was philanthropy, and he put his considerable influence to good use on the boards of several hospital groups and charities.

When Lee bought a barren hillside near Sham Tseng in 1949, his intention was not only to create a garden for his family, but something he could share with the whole of Hong Kong. The first thing he did was build a swimming pool, which he opened to the public, nearly a decade before the first public swimming pool opened in Victoria Park.

"He had read that some children had drowned at the beach and he said, 'I'm going to build something big enough for the schoolchildren to come use it,'" said Cynthia Lee.

In 1958, Lee hired renowned Chinese architect Chu Pin to build an ancestral hall, mausoleum and pavilion. Waterfalls, ponds and a stream were built in the garden, flowing toward the ocean in accordance with feng shui principles. Statues representing Buddhist, Taoist and Christian traditions were scattered throughout the site.

The same mish-mash of Chinese and Western styles is found throughout the garden: Qing Dynasty-style buildings covered in mosaic tiles, for instance, or stained glass windows depicting traditional Chinese scenes.

The garden's architecture was interesting enough to catch the eye of Hollywood film producers. In the 1974 James Bond movie The Man With a Golden Gun, Dragon Garden serves as the estate of a nefarious Thai-Chinese businessman, Hai Fat, who intercepts Bond after he sneaks into the garden and tries to join Fat's girlfriend as she skinny-dips in the pool.

"It somehow captures the environment of Hong Kong during the 1960s and 70s, which was a combination of different styles and influences," said Marisa Yiu, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Hong Kong.

Even more remarkably, the garden was built using techniques that are today considered environmentally-friendly, with plenty of recycled materials. Footpath curbs were made with ginger beer bottles, as was the large dragon fountain that serves as the garden's centerpiece. Granite slabs were salvaged from demolished buildings in Central. The pool water was pumped in from the sea. Rainwater was recycled to supply the garden's water features.

For all its ingenuity, though, it didn't take long for the garden to fall into disuse after Lee died in 1976. In the late 1990s, part of its front section was lopped off by the widening of Castle Peak Road. The government built a large concrete wall to shield the garden from road noise. After the family decided to sell the property, it was left to decay, and Hong Kong's heat and humidity took its toll on the garden's buildings.

But the vegetation thrived, and today's garden has an unruly appearance that complements its eccentric atmosphere. "The most amazing thing is the calmness and the nature of it," Yiu said. "There's really something quite powerful about that space. I don't know if it's the different components, the way the trees are or the water space, but there's something very magical. You can't capture it, not through film or photography or writing about it. You just have to be there."

Finding a way for the general public to experience that sense of magic is something that Cynthia Lee has been trying to do for most of the past four years. After the garden was saved, she set up a charitable trust to promote dialogue about heritage conservation. The garden is now open once a month for public visits and it often plays host to group tours.

Lee has also invited artists and students to study the site. Earlier this year, Yiu made Dragon Garden the focus of her graduate architecture seminar on cultural landscapes. Seven groups of students made installations that raised questions about different aspects of the garden. One used LED boxes to literally shed light on some of the garden's easy-to-miss details; another explained the history of the ginger beer bottles used in the garden.

"These kinds of private spaces are rarely discussed in Hong Kong," said one student, Choi Kit-wang, whose group made Where the Dragon Lies, an installation that used lights, recycled bottles and a fish pond to depict the new residential development that surrounds the garden and once threatened to destroy it.

"If you put it in context with new development, it forces people who move to the area to rethink their relationship to heritage and the garden," he said. "It's a good example of how residential development has grown rapidly without anyone caring about its impact on heritage," said his groupmate, William Lai Wing-fung.

Similar themes were explored by another installation, Resonance, which strung LED lights over the wall built when Castle Peak Road was widened. The lights blinked according to the level of sound emitted by cars passing by and planes flying overhead, a reminder of how Dragon Garden, once isolated, now finds itself on Hong Kong's urban fringe.

"There are quite a number of levels (at which) to enjoy the garden," said Bill Chan Yiu-kwan, one of the students behind Resonance. "You can just enjoy the nature of it, but if you get some information on the history of the garden, and the concepts and ideas behind it, it becomes more fascinating."

That is perhaps the biggest challenge in opening Dragon Garden to the public: making sure it remains relevant to the public. "There's so much potential for education in this garden," said Cynthia Lee. "It's not about commemorating my grandfather - it's about understanding Hong Kong in the period of time that the garden was built."

Lee said that a recently-completed feasibility study suggested dividing the garden into a mix of zones, some for public recreational use and others for educational use and research. The emphasis would be on showcasing the garden's history through new media and interactive experiences.

"We want to take a 21st century approach, which is about how the visitor engages with the garden and what they take away from it," said Lee. We don't want to put some objects behind glass for people to look at."

Of course, for all of this to be possible, there needs to be a way to pay for it all. The success of Lee's plans hinges on convincing the government to lend financial support to the garden without taking ownership, and then on finding private donors to sustain the trust her uncle has considered setting up.

That's no small task, said Lee Ho-yin. "I have no idea what a trust can do. Where does the money come from? From the public? Through donations? That would be very tricky. I don't know if it can happen."

But Cynthia Lee is confident that it can be done. She points to private gardens in Europe and North America, which are managed by trusts that raised money from the public, businesses and the government.

"It could be a win-win situation for the government and the people if we think outside the box and come up with an original solution," she said. She recalled how, four years ago, everyone told her that it was impossible to save Dragon Garden from redevelopment.

That turned out to be far from the truth. "It just goes to show that nothing is impossible if you take the right approach," she said.
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Old July 30th, 2010, 06:49 PM   #271
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Landmark tree in concrete shell shows signs of stress
14 June 2010
SCMP

At the former site of the marine police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui - now a glittering boutique hotel and mall called 1881 Heritage - all the latest luxury goods are on display.

But for one of the oldest residents of the once-grassy knoll at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, the future is not looking so bright. A certified arborist says a century-old Chinese Banyan tree is showing signs of possibly terminal decline and needs urgent remedial action to save it.

Conservancy Association chief executive Ken So Kwok-yin suspects the tree, one of five "important" trees spared in the HK$350 million project, is suffering dehydration. "If we turn a blind eye and don't take remedial action, say for three to five years, there will be no chance for the tree ever to recover," he said.

Citybase Property Management, a Cheung Kong Group subsidiary that runs the site, said its arborist said the tree had no health problems but it was now planning improvements.

So said bare branches on the edge of the tree crown and a decrease in leaf density were warning signs of dehydration. He said the tree's habitat had been completely altered by the construction, including extensive excavation of the slope that once led up to the building, and its roots were no longer able to tap water from wider underground sources.

Most of the 193 trees on the site were felled or moved during the redevelopment. To keep the old banyan, a soil column nine metres in diameter was preserved under it by building a 10-metre concrete shell around it, but some of the roots had to be pruned to fit the shell.

So, who recently inspected the tree and compared its condition with photographic records, said its spread had shrunk by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2007, a natural outcome of root or branch pruning during construction.

But last year, after the official opening of the heritage site, the leaves had begun to fall off and become less dense. He suspected the problem might be related to the improper watering.

So said confining the tree in the cement shell meant its care had to be carefully adjusted. Proper watering should make the top 30 centimetres of soil moist, not just the soil at the bottom of the tree, and he doubted such thorough watering was being carried out.

So was also surprised at the absence of an automatic sprinkler system to water the plants and trees in such an expensive hotel project, developed by a subsidiary of the Cheung Kong Group, Flying Snow.

At Hong Kong Disneyland, he said, the watering of plants was not just automatic but was assisted by sensors inserted into the soil to monitor the moisture level.

According to Citybase, a landscaping contractor was responsible for the day-to-day care of the tree, such as watering, pest control and fertilising.

But the company did not give further details about the contractor's work.

It also said the arborist it hired regularly collected data on the moisture content of the soil.

"The arborist's report shows all the vitals of the tree are normal. But some enhancement measures can be adopted," it said.
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Old July 30th, 2010, 06:50 PM   #272
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Landmark tree in concrete shell shows signs of stress
14 June 2010
SCMP

At the former site of the marine police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui - now a glittering boutique hotel and mall called 1881 Heritage - all the latest luxury goods are on display.

But for one of the oldest residents of the once-grassy knoll at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, the future is not looking so bright. A certified arborist says a century-old Chinese Banyan tree is showing signs of possibly terminal decline and needs urgent remedial action to save it.

Conservancy Association chief executive Ken So Kwok-yin suspects the tree, one of five "important" trees spared in the HK$350 million project, is suffering dehydration. "If we turn a blind eye and don't take remedial action, say for three to five years, there will be no chance for the tree ever to recover," he said.

Citybase Property Management, a Cheung Kong Group subsidiary that runs the site, said its arborist said the tree had no health problems but it was now planning improvements.

So said bare branches on the edge of the tree crown and a decrease in leaf density were warning signs of dehydration. He said the tree's habitat had been completely altered by the construction, including extensive excavation of the slope that once led up to the building, and its roots were no longer able to tap water from wider underground sources.

Most of the 193 trees on the site were felled or moved during the redevelopment. To keep the old banyan, a soil column nine metres in diameter was preserved under it by building a 10-metre concrete shell around it, but some of the roots had to be pruned to fit the shell.

So, who recently inspected the tree and compared its condition with photographic records, said its spread had shrunk by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2007, a natural outcome of root or branch pruning during construction.

But last year, after the official opening of the heritage site, the leaves had begun to fall off and become less dense. He suspected the problem might be related to the improper watering.

So said confining the tree in the cement shell meant its care had to be carefully adjusted. Proper watering should make the top 30 centimetres of soil moist, not just the soil at the bottom of the tree, and he doubted such thorough watering was being carried out.

So was also surprised at the absence of an automatic sprinkler system to water the plants and trees in such an expensive hotel project, developed by a subsidiary of the Cheung Kong Group, Flying Snow.

At Hong Kong Disneyland, he said, the watering of plants was not just automatic but was assisted by sensors inserted into the soil to monitor the moisture level.

According to Citybase, a landscaping contractor was responsible for the day-to-day care of the tree, such as watering, pest control and fertilising.

But the company did not give further details about the contractor's work.

It also said the arborist it hired regularly collected data on the moisture content of the soil.

"The arborist's report shows all the vitals of the tree are normal. But some enhancement measures can be adopted," it said.
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Old August 9th, 2010, 05:53 PM   #273
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We are missing out on a golden opportunity to sell the city, historians say
30 May 2010
SCMP

What do Michael Hutchence, the late lead singer of INXS, Ho Chi Minh and Philippine revolutionary Jose Rizal have in common?

Well, they all lived in Hong Kong - Australian singer-songwriter Hutchence as a teenager in Repulse Bay and Mosque Street before becoming famous. Ho was arrested by the British while he was here and Rizal was a doctor before returning to the Philippines where he was executed in 1898. But walking around Hong Kong, the only indication of any of these men is a plaque to Rizal in the Mid-Levels.

Local historians Tony Banham and Dr Dan Waters feel that's a shame and that Hong Kong is missing out on a golden opportunity to sell the city. Both would like to see a series of plaques and trails to guide the local visitor and tourist around.

"Most visitors coming here expect it to be a concrete jungle and most of the time that's all we give them," Banham said. "There are so many aspects of Hong Kong that we do a very poor job of using to our advantage. What a huge number of eccentric, interesting and remarkable people have passed through and left their influence behind."

On Waters' wish list is a plaque at the Hung Shing Temple in Wan Chai to mark how the sea used to lap at its doors and often flood the building before reclamation began in the mid-19th century.

He would also like to see a plaque in Broadcast Drive in Kowloon Tong to commemorate where outspoken Commercial Radio host Lam Bun was burned to death in his car during the riots of 1967.

"Hong Kong has possibly the most diverse history in the region, yet we hide it," Banham said. A system of trails and plaques, he said, would attract tourists as Hong Kong loses its position as purely a shopping centre. "Tourists are becoming more sophisticated. They want more than Disney and shopping."

The Tourism Board said it had promoted the city's history and culture through its Kaleidoscope programmes. Its trails include one honouring Dr Sun Yat-sen and also the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail which shows the defence of Hong Kong during the second world war.

But Banham would like to see a much more integrated approach. His speciality is the defence of Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion in December 1941. "There's very little to show in Hong Kong where battles were fought, where thousands of civilians died.

"Take, for example, the North Point prisoner of war camp - where several thousand POWs passed through and some perished along the way. There's a park and a nice sitting out area where I can guarantee that the locals, let alone the tourists, don't know what happened at that spot."

Then there is the Legislative Council building, where in the basement a number of those working for the British were interrogated and tortured.

"You don't want any topic like this to dominate Hong Kong," Banham said. "But this is such a bustling city that I think it's just a quiet few moments as you think about what happened at this spot. I don't think it hurts to think a bit more deeply.

"The bravery of the Chinese agents who fought in Hong Kong against the Japanese on behalf of the allies, that's something that you would think should be memorialised. Yet aside from their graves in Stanley I don't know of any memorial at all. I know there is some sort of memorial in Sai Kung but that's a bit remote. I'm very in favour of having memorials where people can see them."

Waters and Banham also suggest Hong Kong's film industry could be showcased by indicating where some famous movies were shot. For example, a plaque at Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui or up the escalator in Central to show where award-winning actors Faye Wong and Tony Leung Chiu-wai starred in Chungking Express in 1994.

Or a whole variety of shopping centres where Jackie Chan has kicked out windows and swung from balconies all in the name of getting the baddie.

Perhaps a plaque at the Star Ferry for both The World of Suzie Wong and Love is a Many Splendoured Thing.

Banham believes a whole list of colourful eccentric and gifted people should have their moment of fame as someone glances down to read their plaque. For example, E. R. Belilios, the foremost opium trader in the former British colony used to commute on a camel from Mid-Levels to Central, until his camel jumped off a cliff.
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Old August 12th, 2010, 05:10 PM   #274
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Ming-era porcelain factory left to rot in undergrowth
Land dispute stymies conservation plan for Tai Po site

9 August 2010
South China Morning Post

A porcelain kiln site in Tai Po that once thrived during the Ming and Qing dynasties has suffered neglect and damage over six years since a conservation plan was shelved because of land ownership problems.

With no protection other than a wire fence, the Wun Yiu kiln site, on densely wooded slopes, lies exposed to the weather.

A visit by the South China Morning Post last week after recent heavy rainstorms found fresh abrasion marks on the slopes, and pieces of porcelain bowls and plates scattered around. Some pieces were apparently washed down the slope from within the fenced area, which was declared a monument in 1983.

A hole had been cut through the fence large enough to let a person enter. There was no watchman and people could tread on hundreds of pieces of bowls lying outside the fenced area, or even take them away.

The 1,500 square metres of government land fenced in is only 3 per cent of the old porcelain factory's five hectares, which includes private land. Apart from a handful of porcelain samples and display boards in the adjacent Fan Sin Temple, little information is available on the site.

Archaeological investigations at Wun Yiu in 1995 and 1999 discovered key elements of porcelain production, including clay quarrying pits, water mills, an animal-driven grinder and clay-soaking tanks.

The excavation also found 5,000 to 6,000 pieces of broken bowls, plates, basins, incense holders and other items.

The Man and Tse clans started the industry in Wun Yiu in the 1430s in the Ming dynasty, employing hundreds of workers and exporting products to Southeast Asia. It thrived until the 1930s, when competition from machine-made wares killed it.

"It was a very big factory {hellip} It's proof that Hong Kong was not just a fishing village but an important crafts hub," an archaeologist wrote in a 2000 publication of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man said he had written to the government to call for better protection. "The community has higher aspirations for heritage conservation than before," he said. "It's time the government revisited the shelved museum plan."

The plan dated to 2001 when the defunct Culture and Heritage Commission, a high-level advisory body, proposed a Wun Yiu site museum "of regional to world-class importance".

In a reply to the Post, the Antiquities and Monuments Office said it inspected the kiln site on July 28 and had already arranged for repairs to the broken fence.

The office said minimal intervention for underground remains was "normal conservation practice", but it admitted a conservation plan had been shelved because villagers had not shown support for it.

The plan, introduced in 2004, recommended a minimum-intervention approach for the relics, development of a heritage trail and conversion of a nearby abandoned school into an on-site display centre.

"The villagers strongly indicated that the AMO should not implement any measures unless their village small house applications could be resolved," the office said.

Tai Po Rural Committee chairman Man Chen-fai said he did not understand why the stalemate had continued for years. "We do not object to conservation, but the conservation zone should not cover areas already zoned for village houses. If it is the case, there should be compensation," Man said.

Peter Li said the government should come up with a policy for dealing with heritage and ecological sites on private land, because land ownership had repeatedly been an obstacle to conservation.

The chairman of the city's Archaeological Society, Cheng Kai-ming, said Wun Yiu was a pillar of Hong Kong's early industrial development and deserved much better protection than it was getting.

"The government should pay attention not just to historic buildings but also to archaeological sites. Wun Yiu makes an ideal on-site museum that can appeal to tourists, with all its history and relics," Cheng said.
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Old August 17th, 2010, 05:47 AM   #275
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`Ghost tree' comes back to haunt officials
The Standard
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Former students of Maryknoll Convent School, still fuming over the felling of the campus "Ghost tree," have accused three government departments of failing in their duty to protect Hong Kong's heritage.

In a petition filed yesterday before the Office of the Ombudsman, the Ghost Pine Organization said the incident in February was the result of inadequate guidelines and the lack of proper supervision.

The group accused the Antiquities and Monuments Office, Development Bureau and Leisure and Cultural Services Department of negligence resulting in the roots of the tree being badly damaged during drainage work.

Legislator Tanya Chan Suk- chong, who is assisting the group, said the antiquities office had assured the school the work would not damage the ground structure.

"If that is the case, we suspect there was a lack of inspection on its part and in follow-up action during the drainage work leading to the damage to the tree's roots," Chan said.

The 74-year-old 20-meter pine tree was cut down on February 6 after Maryknoll said there was a danger of it collapsing.
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Old August 31st, 2010, 07:05 AM   #276
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Taiwanese bookseller looking at market site
Industry says project should go to locals

31 August 2010
South China Morning Post

A major bookseller in Taiwan is looking at the Central Market as a possible site to set up shop in Hong Kong, but the choice may be disputed by local players in publishing.

The Urban Renewal Authority, in charge of the revitalisation project for the 71-year-old building in Des Voeux Road Central, said the use of the block would ultimately be determined by the public.

"There will be a fair process in the selection of Central Oasis' [the name of the market project] future operator," said a spokesman for the authority, adding that a public forum would soon be organised.

A committee that advises the authority on the project met yesterday but has yet to discuss the business model and partners. A person present at the meeting said: "The project could be run by one or multiple operators. The committee is determined to keep the selection process very fair and transparent, with thorough consultation.

"Public opinion will be above any other considerations, including political pressure," the person said.

The remarks came as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, during his visit to Taiwan this week, welcomed a plan by Eslite, the biggest bookstore chain in Taiwan, to expand to Hong Kong. Tsang indicated that government departments would discuss the idea with the company.

Eslite chairman Robert Wu had also mentioned the Central Market as a possible option, along with Causeway Bay or Kowloon.

Eslite is also looking for a vacant factory building as an alternative, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The bookstore's flagship store in Hong Kong would, like the one in Taipei, come with a restaurant and a food court, a lifestyle design store, a contemporary art gallery, an education centre, a theatre and an observation deck, according to its presentation to the Hong Kong government.

Jimmy Pang Chi-ming, chairman of local publisher Subculture, said the Central Market should be reserved for locals if it were to become a book city.

"Hongkongers absolutely are capable of creating their own city brands. If the market building is to be leased at a concessionary rent, I see no reason why locals should not be beneficiaries.

"The government may want to improve ties with Taiwan, but it should not do so at the expense of local creative industries," Pang said, adding that the West Kowloon Cultural District, which is set to be a regional arts hub, would be a better home to Eslite.

Daniel Lee Dat-ming, who runs Hong Kong Reader, a cultural bookstore in Mong Kok, said he also had reservations about giving concessions to a Taiwanese chain.

He said it is a constant battle for him to meet the monthly rental of more than HK$10,000 for his 800-square-foot shop, located on the seventh floor of an old building.

"The market building could be composed of small shops selling different kinds of books, and in that case, we would also be interested," Lee said, adding that the authority should get operators through an open tender process.

A survey conducted by the authority found that the majority of 6,000 respondents wanted a leisure venue that included green space.

The authority is conducting a structural survey.
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Old August 31st, 2010, 09:09 AM   #277
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Hong Kong history on a plate, yet we spurn it
19 August 2010
South China Morning Post

It's sometimes forgotten just how much history Hong Kong has. The shorthand view that there was little to Hong Kong other than fishing before British colonialists arrived 170 years ago is a far cry from the truth. At a site in the New Territories, a kiln turned out that most identifiable of Chinese objects, blue and white porcelain, for centuries. It was exported throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of a thriving industry in the five-hectare area. When the kiln thrived during the Ming and Qing dynasties porcelain was a luxury only the wealthy could afford. To know that it was being traded for goods like silk paints our past in considerably more vibrant colours.

And yet we don't seem to be expending much effort to celebrate that past. The Wun Yiu kiln has been neglected to the point of ruination. Despite having been declared a monument, a land dispute with villagers has left it overlooked and open to the ravages of the elements. The protection that the special status is supposed to confer has been made meaningless by inattention.

Even a conservation plan was seen to be too difficult; indigenous villagers demanding the right to build promised houses on the 97 per cent of the site that is in private hands caused that to be shelved six years ago. In place of attractions there's only a wire fence that is poorly maintained, a hillside that is freshly eroded with each downpour and broken pieces of porcelain littering the dirt. A visit by this newspaper showed none of the preservation that monument status is supposed to guarantee.

We should be capitalising on what we have to educate and to draw tourists. The atmosphere of a thriving kiln could be recreated with a museum and displays. That has been done successfully with the Sheung Yiu Folk Museum in Sai Kung. Hong Kong has just 94 buildings and places with monument status. Every effort has to be taken to keep them in the best condition. Disputes have to be settled using every resource that the government can muster. If a land purchase or swap is necessary at Wun Yiu, let's do it so the neglect can end. Or even more of Hong Kong's history will be forgotten.
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Old September 8th, 2010, 04:50 PM   #278
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Urban renewal has no place for hungry ghosts
23 August 2010
SCMP

Redevelopment looks like ending two historic Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost) Festivals.

The festival is a month-long effort to appease restless spirits of the dead. But threats from urbanisation are forcing communities in Central, Kwai Chung and Wong Tai Sin this year to stage what are likely to be their last celebrations.

The festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and more than 60 celebrations take place across the city throughout the month to pacify roaming hungry ghosts.

Worshippers make offerings of food, letters and fake cash to satisfy the hungry spirits.

The Ministry of Culture in Beijing is likely to name the festival, and three other traditional Hong Kong events, as part of the nation's intangible cultural heritage later this month or early next, said conservationist Roger Ho Yao-sheng, who is familiar with the Hong Kong government's approaches to Beijing on the matter.

The three other festivals are the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, the dragon boat water parade at Tai O and the Tai Hang fire dragon dance.

The prospect of gaining national status delighted Wong Kan-oi, chairman of festival organiser 30 House Yue Lan Associates, last year. He has been organising hungry ghost events in Central, Mid-Levels and Sheung Wan from his shop at 62 Staunton Street since 1996.

But he said an Urban Renewal Authority decision to redevelop the area which encompasses his shop has confused and depressed him and his neighbours.

People in the area began to celebrate the festival there more than a century ago, but their evictions, scheduled for February 11 next year, to make way for an urban renewal project, means the forthcoming celebrations Yu Lan festival on September 2 will be the last in the area.

"You're trying to make the festival a national heritage and meanwhile you're kicking us out. This is contradictory," Wong said. "We're deeply saddened by the way the government treats us."

Redevelopment projects, such as the one affecting Staunton Street and also Wing Lee Street, target old, dilapidated buildings with poor living conditions, and transform them into open spaces and community facilities, the authority says.

Ho, a heritage writer, said: "The group shouldn't be expelled. To dismiss them would be like terminating the historical pulse of this quarter."

Other celebrations in Yan Oi Court, Kwun Tong, and Choi Wan Estate in Wong Tai Sin are also facing the same threat from urbanisation or noise complaints.

One site at risk is the park in Hill Road, Pok Fu Lam, which might have to make way for the MTR's West Island Line.

Ho said festivals usually occurred in grass-roots areas and served important social functions because the government often could not, or did not, give smaller, poorer communities the care they needed.

"It's from ... meetings like this that a sense of local recognition and belonging is created, which is essentially what the government calls a `harmonious society'. These festivals peter out owing to redevelopments or people's deaths. Consequently, local culture vanishes.

Clairvoyant and exorcist Yik Yuen-ling, the honorary chairman of 30 House, said: "Since the community here has been feeding the hungry ghosts in this neighbourhood for many years, they are accustomed to this treatment. When they, the ancestors, arrive next year only to find nothing is prepared for them, they may think nobody cares about them and will create troubles like car crashes or fires."

Ho said: "If Yu Lan becomes a national heritage event, the government should actively look for sites nearby to keep the traditions."

The festival is often celebrated on soccer pitches or in parks, mainly by the Chiu Chow community, estimated to number 1.2 million.

Legend has it that Mu Lian, then the oldest Buddhist monk, discovered that his mother was a hungry ghost who was suffering in hell due to her misdeeds in life.

The monk used his magical powers to offer food to his mother, but the food turned into charcoal in her hands. Buddha advised him to ask monks and others to recite sacred scripts and perform rituals on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar in order to temporarily release all hungry ghosts - including his mother - to receive food.
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Old September 9th, 2010, 06:41 PM   #279
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CLP in talks on saving art deco HQ
Utility explores alternatives to demolition for tower already approved

3 September 2010
South China Morning Post

CLP Power is in talks with the government about economic incentives to preserve its 70-year-old headquarters in Argyle Street, Kowloon, as it seeks to guard redevelopment rights granted nine years ago.

Grade-one historic status was proposed by the Antiquities and Monuments Office last year for the building at 139-147 Argyle Street.

The negotiation is based on an approved building plan for a 39-storey residential tower atop a four-storey car-parking podium on the site that CLP secured in 2001, which could be worth billions of dollars, a person in the heritage-conservation field said.

A CLP spokeswoman confirmed the utility had had discussions with the government on "the need to balance between preservation of built heritage for the benefits of the community and allowing individual owners such as CLP to exercise the rights that come with ownership". "We are constantly reviewing our need and requirement for our properties and currently reviewing various options for our head office building," she said.

A top government official said it was having talks with a grade-one heritage owner, without giving a name. "If negotiations bore fruit, the case would be another example in which the government managed to secure preservation of privately owned heritage by handing out economic incentives instead of buying out with cash," the official said.

The art deco building was opened in 1940 as the utility, led by the Kadoorie family, extended the electricity supply for a growing Kowloon.

It marked a milestone in the development of the company and the district, according to a heritage appraisal by the antiquities office.

The two sides have been exploring several options to keep the block without affecting the owner's development rights. One possibility is partial preservation with new structures, as was done with the Wan Chai Market, with only the facade kept and the rear demolished for flats.

But this approach would impair the integrity of the symmetrical CLP building, architectural conservationist Dr Lee Ho-yin said. The block, standing on a landscaped embankment at a major junction of roads and flyovers, has long been a landmark.

Another option is for CLP to transfer the surplus development potential to another site it owns or one granted by the government. The present head office contains a gross floor area of about 78,000 square feet, according to the building plan. The 2001 plan would enable CLP to develop a residential tower with a floor area of about 309,000 square feet. This means the transfer could involve the unrealised 231,000 square feet.

Surveyors say the greatest challenge for this option is to find a suitable site. "You have to look for a site in the area large enough to receive the unrealised building space. There are very few such sites in Ho Man Tin and Kowloon Tong, except a site in Ede Road in the [government's] land sale list," SK Pang managing director Pang Shiu-kee said.

Building density in the area had already been capped, adding to the difficulty, he said. An attempt in 2000 to raise the plot ratio in Kadoorie Hills behind the headquarters block was rejected by the Town Planning Board, which wanted to maintain the "high-class low-density" scenic setting in the area.

Charles Chan Chiu-kwok, managing director of Savills Valuation and Professional Services, said the two sides could also be split on land values of the Argyle Street site and the transfer site. Officials would have to be careful in the calculations.

He estimated the CLP site could be worth HK$13,000 per square foot.

Donation of the site to the government in exchange for another - as in the case of King Yin Lei mansion in Stubbs Road, Mid-Levels - sounds a less likely option for the company, which has maintained the head office there for almost 70 years.

The Development Bureau has in recent years given economic incentives to other private owners of heritage buildings.

It is working out a plan with the Anglican Sheng Kung Hui so the church can transfer some development rights from its compound on Lower Albert Road to a Mt Butler site that it owns. It allowed owners of Jessville in Pok Fu Lam Road to build two residential towers next to the 77-year-old mansion by lifting a moratorium on denser redevelopment in the area. The latest case is in Prince Edward Road West, where the owner of a four-storey shophouse is being allowed to keep the facade and demolish the rear to build a hotel.

CLP is not new to real estate development, having turned a Hung Hom power plant into Laguna Verde with Cheung Kong Holdings in the 1990s.

Antiquities Advisory Board member Dr Ng Cho-nam said the government would have to justify the deal if it decided to give incentives involving a land exchange. "It seems that society is yet to form a consensus that the building is worth preserving with such a large-scale effort," he said.
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Old September 18th, 2010, 10:23 AM   #280
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Restorers achieve a Mid-Levels Renaissance
3 September 2010
South China Morning Post



Just one more month and the Mid-Levels mansion King Yin Lei will be restored to its former glory.

Repairs to the Chinese Renaissance-style mansion at 45 Stubbs Road are now in the final stage and restorers are fine-tuning the interior furnishings, Professor Tang Guohua, of the school of architecture and urban planning at Guangzhou University, said.

"We are inspecting the works and everything will be completed in October," Tang said.

While repairs to the bronze railing on the stairs and the timber floor were continuing, the red bricks, terrazzo decorative features and ceiling moulding have already been reproduced or fixed, and mosaic and cement tiles have been laid.

Work on the mansion's signature two-tone green roof is complete. Efforts were made to reproduce the lighter green tiles used in 1937 when it was built, and the deeper green tiles for the new wings added in the 1970s.

A contractor hired to deface the mansion is still holding some 100 items removed from the mansion, including wooden doors and window frames, in the hope of selling them. But as the government said no public money would be used to buy them back, the restorers have made replicas.

The Development Bureau said it would soon decide on the most suitable use for King Yin Lei: "One of the important principles is to provide free public access."

It has been three years since the mansion was defaced by its unidentified former owner, who sought to demolish it for redevelopment. The attempt initially escaped the government's attention but a halt to the work was finally called after media coverage, and officials provisionally declared the mansion a monument.

Monument status was confirmed in 2008, and the owner agreed to surrender the site in exchange for one on the slope next to it. The owner paid HK$57.99 million for the new site to build five three-storey houses.
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