The collapse of a wall at the 150-year-old former Central Police Station compound on Hollywood Road, Central, on Sunday night has been described by a district councillor as an “international joke”.

The heritage site is set to be transformed into a culture and leisure hub and was scheduled to reopen later this year. The married inspectors’ quarters building was said to be in a “relatively poor condition” which “may require more time for restoration” according to a Development Bureau document received by Central and Western’s district council in May.

Central police station
The collapsed structure.

“The revitalisation project lasted more than ten years from planning to construction, but it ended in the collapse of a building – it’s an international joke,” said Central and Western District Councillor Ted Hui Chi-fung. “It reflects the failure of Hong Kong’s conservation policy.”

Ted Hui Central police station
Ted Hui Chi-fung.

An emergency meeting will be held by the Central and Western district council on Tuesday, Hui said.

Lee Ho-yin, a member of the project’s Heritage Working Group, said the revitalisation project was the most complicated – and the biggest one – in Hong Kong. He said that there were many different buildings and some were over 100 years old.

Central police station
The collapsed roof and wall.

“These buildings have no structural plans, and there were no structural engineers’ calculations [regarding safety] when they were built,” he said.

Lee, who also heads the Division of Architectural Conservation Programmes of the University of Hong Kong, said that every building was monitored separately. The have been regular reports on the status of the buildings, he said, after touring the site.

Lee Ho-yin Central police station
Lee Ho-yin.

Bricks and cracks

Lee said that the incident was “unpredictable” and that, for safety reasons, the building should have been demolished. However, the project aimed to save it for the purpose of heritage preservation.

He added that the building’s structural problems – such as cracks – were known and have been constantly reported. He said that it took longer than other buildings to slowly check each part and conduct repairs.

“The problem seems to be the brick wall… it was built with – not red bricks – but grey bricks. They were not that hard – with the rain and cracks, it finally collapsed,” he said.

Kim Mak jockey club
Kim Mak Kin-wah.

Safety concerns

The project is managed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Kim Mak Kin-wah, Jockey Club Executive Director (Corporate Affairs) said the building was under structural consolidation work before the collapse of its wall – in order to inspect its status – and there was no work being conducted on Sunday night when the incident occurred.

He said the collapsed site has been sealed off from the other buildings in the compound to ensure safety.

“We have requested specialists carry out detailed inspections and provide a report,” Mak said.

Mak added that the Jockey Club has invited the Buildings Department for a meeting to review the situation.

He did not directly say if the opening date of the project will be affected by the incident, adding that it will be clarified when there is more information.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.