An online petition has been launched to list Hong Kong’s historic Union Church as a proposed monument, which would prevent it from being redeveloped into a block of apartments.
Church leadership signed an agreement with property developer Henderson Land in March, authorising the demolition of the 68-year-old stone structure in Mid-levels, to be replaced by a 22-storey block of flats.
The five lowest floors of the new building will be home to the church, while the upper floors will be flats.
A High Court judgement last November mentioned that Henderson Land would pay all costs for the redevelopment of the church. But April circulars sent to churchgoers and seen by HKFP state that the congregation must raise HK$10 million to pay for architectural design, legal consulting, and the fitting-out of temporary premises for worship before the new building is completed.
The Antiquities and Monuments Office currently lists the church structure as a Grade III historic building, which means that “preservation in some form would be desirable.”
But almost 200 signatories have called on the office to list the church as a Grade I historic building, and the Development Bureau to designate it a proposed monument.
Under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, it is illegal to “demolish, remove, obstruct, deface or interfere with a proposed monument.” The status lasts for a duration of 12 months, but can be extended.
“The demolition of Union Church reflects Hong Kong is still a mercenary society that neglects heritage conservation,” read the petition, which was addressed to the Antiquities Advisory Board and development chief Eric Ma.
“The government’s plan for the church shows their perfunctory effort in architectural conservation. It will be Hong Kong’s shame to let such iconic architecture vanish.”
The organiser of the petition is a member of the church, but declined to reveal their identity to HKFP. Another member told HKFP that many churchgoers wished to protect themselves from being stigmatised.
A statement was added to the petition, criticising Hong Kong’s property developers for demolishing old buildings in pursuit of profit.
“We don’t want to see yet another heritage site demolished,” it read. “We want our children to continue worshipping in the building which reminds us so much of our roots and origins.”
In a poll in March 2014 77 per cent of church members approved the redevelopment plan, and 23 per cent voted against it.
During redevelopment, which is expected to take five years, the church congregation plans to move temporarily to Wanchai commercial building Sunlight Tower.