Reviews & Articles
（再次）守護舊城中環的文化遺產 | Protecting (again) Central’s Delicate Heritage
at 12:34pm on 12th February 2018
Caption: Artist’s impression of proposed Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui 25-storey hospital on Bishop’s Hill in Central Hong Kong
(Please scroll down for English version)
Protecting (again) Central’s Delicate Heritage
Bishop’s House on Lower Albert Road, across from the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Central, is one of Hong Kong’s most historically significant buildings on a historically significant site, the religious centre of British colonial life and original home of St Paul’s College. It is one of the oldest colonial buildings in Hong Kong and despite its bona fide heritage credentials it has only been accorded a Grade 1 heritage grading, rather than the higher ‘Monument’ status – a heritage grading that would ensure its preservation and protection from demolition or disturbance.
A long land lease for this site was granted to the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (SKH or Anglican Church) in the first years of British rule in Hong Kong. The site’s lease allows the SKH to operate a theological college, a school, St Paul’s Church, a hospital and accommodation on the site. For over 160 years, Bishop’s Hill has been home and office of the Bishop of Hong Kong, the most senior Anglican cleric in the city. This site is perfectly sited mid-distant between the former Governor’s now-Chief Executive’s House and St John’s Cathedral. It occupied a traditionally advantageous and symbolically important position in the colonial pecking-order: Government Hill with its Central Government Offices and government decision-makers was also just across the road.
The site’s heritage is subtle and not obvious from the street, however in addition to the Bishop’s House, there are three other graded heritage buildings on the steeply sloped site. In Hong Kong, with the exception of the Tai Kwun/Central Police Station site, Bishop’s Hill has the greatest concentration of graded heritage buildings in one dedicated area.
Following the controversial demolition of the ‘Star’ Ferry building in Central in 2006 and the success of the Central & Western Concern Group’s advocacy and campaign to preserve the modernist PMQ buildings in 2007 and 2008, the government was pressed to formulate a heritage policy for the city’s Central district. In 2009 the Development Bureau announced the ‘Conserving Central’ policy of “eight initiatives to preserve many of the important cultural, historical and architectural features in Central while adding new life and vibrancy to the area.” The SKH site was one of those initiatives and in 2011 it was announced that Bishop’s Hill would include a redeveloped 18-storey hospital and new residential block on Upper Albert Road and relocation of the church’s theological college and kindergarten, now operating inside St Paul’s Church, to a property owned by the SKH on Mt Butler.
The Chief Executive-in-Council approved these changes to the Bishop Hill’s lease in 2011 to allow this plan. However, the plan was stymied by strong opposition from the well-connected residents of Mt Butler who argued, amongst other considerations, there would be greater traffic congestion if the kindergarten was relocated. The plan has been in limbo since then.
In early 2017, documents were tabled to the Central & Western District Council outlining a new initiative for the site by the SKH. A few months later, illustrated plans for a 25-storey “non-profit-making private hospital” were unveiled at a District Council meeting with this enlarged hospital wedged in-between the site’s historic buildings. This new plan, with no prior discussions with stake-holders or selected ‘focus groups’ of nearby residents or with the general public, was a shock. Despite it being a SKH proposal, this new plan will require further approval by the Chief Executive-in-Council and the government has the final say on whether any development on Bishop Hill is approved.
The proposed hospital is out of all proportion to the site’s other low-rise heritage buildings. It is an ill-conceived and insensitive proposal: traffic congestion and visual impact are not addressed nor has a detailed heritage assessment been done for the site before unveiling this latest plan. Has the government learned nothing about public engagement since the July 1st mass rallies of 2003 and 2004 and the recent Umbrella protests? And why does government still ignore the views and queries of the city’s heritage and urban planning advocacy groups? These groups can offer sensible advice before (often ill-considered) plans are unveiled. It is an irony that this latest proposal for Bishop Hill is in response to such determined public opposition from Mt Butler residents!
Now that the new plan is public, different heritage and conservancy groups have joined together to oppose the proposed redevelopment of historic Bishop’s Hill. The new campaign is under the umbrella of the Government Hill Concern Group, which successfully campaigned for the retention of the West Wing of the former Central Government Offices. The Concern Group has filed a planning application with the Town Planning Board and proposes that any redeveloped hospital be of the current hospital’s 6-storey height and footprint – you can make a comment to the Town Planning Board at the website link below. That is the only appropriate redevelopment of the historically important Bishop’s Hill heritage that should be approved by government! A new 25-storey hospital can certainly be built – but not on historic Bishop’s Hill!
For planning application details see: http://www.info.gov.hk/tpb/index.html
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 20 January 2018. Translated by Aulina Chan.