Conservationists have blasted the government’s heritage rating agency for providing a “misleading” estimate of the age of the remains of several historic buildings in Central. They accused the agency of proposing a “nil” protection grade in order to justify a redevelopment project nearby.

The Antiquities Advisory Board will ask members to consider the grading at a meeting on Thursday. A discussion paper said that the structures on Cochrane Street were “probably built in the 1930s.” But conservationists estimated that the remains, next to the Mid-Levels escalator, likely belonged to ten tenement buildings or tong lau built between 1879 and 1880.

The remains at Cochrane Street. Photo: Yuen Yan.

Katty Law, of the Central and Western Concern Group, said a report from the board made in September, obtained through a Code on Access to Information request, showed that the board estimated the remains could be traced back to 1879.

Law said the remains were situated within the area for the H18 redevelopment project of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) on Peel Street and Graham Street and that the URA was keen to demolish the heritage site.

The URA earlier proposed reassembling the structures on the same site after dismantling them, citing safety concerns. The reassembled structure would be turned into a wall running parallel to the pavement. However, further reports showed the remains do not pose any imminent danger.

(From left) Tim Ko, Katty Law, Tanya Chan, Charlton Cheung. Photo: Civic Party.

Dr Charlton Cheung, of the Sai Wan Concern Group, said the back-to-back tenements of the remains and the design – without an alleyway – clearly showed that they were built before the laws were changed in 1903, when such building methods were banned after a plague in 1894.

Cheung said the remains were the only set of early Victoria City houses remaining in urban areas: “Such heritage must be preserved at its current location.”

The old photo shows the Graham Street in the 1870s. Photo: Yuen Yan.

Tim Ko Tim-keung, a former member of the board, said he was “shocked” by the “nil” grading. He questioned why many incumbent members did not have adequate knowledge of historical artifacts.

Ko said he was concerned that, since Dr Joseph Ting Sun-pao – former Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History – will retire from the board soon, the government may appoint more people without adequate knowledge.

“[Hong Kong’s historical buildings] will be destroyed by board members who do not know about heritage,” he said.

The remains at Cochrane Street. Photo: Yuen Yan.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong said the board was “unwilling to face reality” and admit the actual age of the remains.

She said she will write to the board to demand the relevant grading criteria, and said that she will write to China’s chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites and international heritage protection organisations to seek assistance.

Kris Cheng

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.