Government Hill, where the current Central Government Offices are, is one of the most important heritage sites for Hong Kong. The government has proposed last month to demolish the CGO West Wing, sell a large chunk of the site to developers, and redevelop it into an office and commercial complex. After thorough studies, there is ample evidence that the government has made at least three misleading claims in its proposal:
Claim 1: The site should be sold off to developers for commercial development
In the “Historic and Architectural Appraisal” report (the ‘Report’) commissioned by Government and conducted by Purcell Miller Tritton, it is made clear that “the site itself is arguably of higher significance than the buildings. This has been the seat of Government since the foundation of Hong Kong as an independent colony” and “the potential significance of the site is further enhanced by the historic sites in the wider area. These sites, taken in conjunction, offer very interesting opportunities for the interpretation of the history of the development of Hong Kong.”(p.135) It is unthinkable for the SAR Government, which has a reserve of over HK$2000 billion and is under no financial pressure whatsoever, to sell off a large chunk of such an important site whatever the price.
Claim 2: CGO West Wing can be demolished because it is of little or no architectural value
In the Report, no recommendation has been made to redevelop any part of the site. In fact the Report pointed out that “the CGO’s physical setting is significant as it is located near to several of Hong Kong’s most important historic buildings and also some of its most iconic modern buildings” (p.108) and “the buildings are of a high architectural quality and are exemplars of the beginning of modern office design in Hong Kong and of 1950s architecture generally”(p.135) and “there is little doubt that it is feasible to reuse the existing buildings”(p.128). Furthermore, the government’s emphasis purely on architectural value has clearly ignored the historic, cultural and community value of the site and the buildings.
Claim 3: The redevelopment of CGO West Wing into a commercial complex will not affect the integrity of the site
From a careful examination of the government’s proposed plan, it is discovered that not only an office block (with some covered area claimed as green space by the government) of about 40 storey’s high will be developed, but that about half of the hill will be hollowed out to make way for a multi-storey underground shopping complex and car park. The green hill which appeared on the plan will effectively be a landscaped terrace similar to what can be found now on Heritage 1881 after the hollowing out of the former Tsimshatsui hill. In other words, Government Hill will no longer exist after the proposed development.
We believe that the government has a duty to provide satisfactory answers to the following queries before the proposal should be considered any further:
1. Does Government not consider Central is saturated with commercial development and that the correct planning strategy should now be to de-centralise and move development of additional office space out of Central? Does Government not consider that there is no overriding public need for any further retail developments in Central? Does Government not consider that any further office and commercial development in Central is inconsistent with its claim to develop West Kowloon into another Central Business District?
2. What is the total tonnage of construction waste which is expected to be generated by the demolition of the West Wing and to which landfill will it be taken? What is the total tonnage of excavated material which is expected to be generated by the hollowing out of Government Hill and to which landfill will it be taken?
3. How much office space is the Government currently renting in Central and Western District, and how much office space will still be needed after all space in the new CGO/LegCo complex is allocated ?
4. What road widening is involved in the proposal? If so, where and what are the proposed alignments and levels of the roads concerned? Will such road widening be paid for out of the public purse? Will such road widening involve destruction of greenery which currently exists and will it involve cutting into vegetated slopes?
5. What is the traffic and environmental impact on the already congested Des Voeux Road Central and Garden Road, both during construction when the excavated materials have to be moved out, and during operation when more traffic is generated from the office and commercial complex?
6. Does the proposed plan fully comply with the Burra Charter and the China Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites, in which there is a presumption against development for heritage sites?
7. The CGO West Wing was built on top of the historic Murray Battery. What is the likelihood of archaeological relics under the site area? Has any archaeological survey been done?
8. There is an elaborate network of tunnels under Government Hill. Will the hollowing out of the hill bring about irreparable damage or permanent loss to these tunnels and the related historic structures?
9. The site is currently zoned ‘GIC’. Why has the Government not put forward any proposal to use the West Wing for purposes compatible with existing zoning. By rezoning the site from GIC to Commercial, how will the public’s right for community and open space be protected?
10. Does the Government consider that there will be a bigger planning gain for the public if the site, including CGO West Wing, is opened up for community use rather than be sold to developers?
We strongly believe that Government has the public obligation to preserve the entire Government Hill as a public asset, and the integrity of the site must be strictly protected. Commercial development on this heritage site should not be allowed as it will demean the historic value of Government Hill. It will be very sad if the Government Hill is to become a "Developer Hill". The site should be preserved for Hong Kong people and our future generations to understand the history of our city, and the open space and the buildings therein should be maintained for public use.
On this basis, we request the government to take the following steps promptly:
1. Conduct a series of open days so as to allow the general public to understand and appreciate the site and the buildings;
2. Conduct a broadbased pubic engagement exercises including public hearings and workshops, to consult the community on how best the site should be utilized by the public;
3. Commission an archaeological dig at the site by an independent team and publish its findings;
4. Extend the public consultation period to 12 months to coincide with the archaeological survey and the engagement exercise.
Central and Western Concern Group
Save Our Shorelines
Designing Hong Kong