A bad move: Government, AAB, AMO destroy our heritage

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Conservation Architect Ken Borthwick calls out the government and bodies charged with protecting our physical heritage for betraying their mission by proposing and agreeing, respectively, to move the Harcourt Road Water Pumping Station to Flagstaff House.

“There is no technical need to relocate the pumping station… it is merely intended to provide a larger site to be available at its present location for office development.

One can only question the SAR administration’s concern for Hong Kong’s architectural heritage and at the commitment and effectiveness of Hong Kong’s heritage advisory bodies, Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) and Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO).

On 10 March a group of heritage lovers met with certain legislators relating to a complaint to the LegCo Public Complaints Office concerning the authorities’ proposal to relocate the Harcourt Road Fresh Water Pumping Station to the Flagstaff House site at Hong Kong Park, in particular whether there could be in-situ reprovisioning at Harcourt Road in order not to impact the park and the heritage site.

flagstaff house

There is no technical need to relocate the pumping station, but as stated in a Water Supplies Department Discussion Paper presented to a Central and Western (C&W) District Council Committee Meeting in September 2013, it is merely intended to provide a larger site to be available at its present location for office development.   The choice of site for the relocation, however, is quite simply outrageous, being at the edge of Hong Kong Park, partly under the original grounds of Declared Monument, Flagstaff House, which is the oldest western building in Hong Kong, being formerly the residence of the British military commanders in Hong Kong and completed in 1846.

“Hong Kong deserves to have its heritage protected by the administration in accordance with the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China

The proposal would destroy a beautiful tree-covered slope below the Monument, which edges the park.  It would require the felling in the site, on the slope and within the original grounds of the house, of 91 trees of the 135 trees and the transplanting of 26 others.  It would see the destruction of a significant length of an historic (~170 year old) masonry defensive wall constructed on the crest of the slope. The masonry wall edges the house’s grounds and features at one corner (just outside the section for demolition) a group of six loopholes, or firing slits, for defence by soldiers with muskets.  Also to be destroyed would be a length of classical balustrade that was modified from the wall as the need for defence lessened.

 

Out of line

The authorities’ selection of this site is completely in contravention of Chinese and international charters for the protection of historic sites.  Article 2 of The Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China emphasizes that: “The aim of conservation is to preserve the authenticity of all the elements of the entire heritage site and to retain for the future its historic information and all its values”. Article 12 stipulates in part that a “buffer zone should also be established to control development around the site’s boundary and to preserve the natural and cultural landscape”.  It can be plainly seen that under these Principles that historic elements like the wall and balustrade should be preserved and the slope should provide the buffer zone protecting the house from development like the pumping station.

 

Flagstaff hosed

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the AAB and AMO have obsequiously endorsed the outrageous proposals.  This may be in part due to the authorities’ frugality with the truth in promoting their proposals, including in the WSD Paper mentioned above which misguidedly describes the site as being “at the existing slope near Central Fire Station at Cotton Tree Drive” rather than more honestly describing it as being at Hong Kong Park and extending right under the site of a Monument.  It goes on to say that the site “is currently a slope covered with greening” (in fact with extensive tree cover of 135 trees) “which is not accessible to the public”.

Hong Kong deserves to have its heritage protected by the administration in accordance with the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China, and not destroyed.  It should expect honesty from its government officials regarding proposals affecting heritage and it should expect better performance from those tasked with protecting heritage.