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John Batten’s Article on the Central Government Office in “Perspective” Magazine, February 2011



“Government Hill”


In the strange way station on the path to democracy that is Hong Kong’s current political situation, we citizens do have the ability to influence Government policy but it tends to be something of a blunt instrument that we wield and which we can only use to make very broad statements.  It seems that we can get across only the simplest messages, those just big enough to get on a placard and yet the Government can be surprisingly responsive to those simple messages.  We know that the Article 23 legislation was shelved and, in a less exalted sphere, the plans for the Central Police Station were considerably scaled down following public protests.

Now we face the issue of “Government Hill”, the Government offices in Lower Albert Road and what is to become of the site once the main functions of Government have been re-located to the new buildings in the Tamar area and, more specifically, what is to become of what is now the West Wing, it having been already decided that the East and Central Wings will be retained and used by the Department of Justice, a decision that seems to have been widely accepted.  What is much more controversial is the Government proposal to tear down the West Wing and replace it by 32 storeys of commercial development (27 storeys of commercial office space and 5 storeys of underground shopping mall) accompanied by a newly planted park, though some consider that it would be more of a “roof garden” than a proper park. The arguments in favour of this development seem to be that it will raise Government revenue, make up a shortfall in office space in the Central Business District, and produce a vibrant new place for people to congregate that will also have good “green” elements.

Let me say straightaway that I think that this commercial development is a mistake.  Of course, the Government needs to raise revenue and providing office space so that the economy can thrive is a worthwhile aim but these objectives must be met with discernment and in wise ways.    The area around the Central Government offices in Wyndham Street and Ice House Street is already severely congested and needs to have traffic taken away from it and, as far as possible, an atmosphere of peace and tranquility created that will be soothing to those who need somewhere to escape temporarily from the stress and clamour of our busy working city.

Thus, my placard would say “No commercial development on the West Wing site.”   Unfortunately, proceeding by placard means that there is little room for more nuanced views but I will expand a little anyway as if my imaginary placard was super-sized and could accommodate the following:

  • Let’s not keep the West Wing building.  Respect for architectural heritage does not, surely, mean that we have to keep every single building even if, as in my view, the West Wing is, it is ugly, uncomfortable to work in and not worth adapting to some other use.
  • Let us make the entire West Wing area a proper park that preserves every possible bit of greenery and every possible tree in the area.  It will sit nicely between the Botanical Gardens and Hong Kong Park and would, I am sure, be popular with both families and workers seeking a break.  There should be plenty of seats and shade so that people can come and eat their lunches there and, if there were to be any buildings at all, simple cafés and eating facilities would seem to be the most appropriate.
  • Let us not turn the West Wing into a Museum.  Hong Kong already has many small and rather under-visited museums and on West Kowloon is about to acquire a gigantic museum space which no one quite knows how to fill while at the same time within the Hollywood Road area, there are many spaces that are apparently due to be used for galleries and other cultural facilities.   Good Government archives and a proper archiving policy are a pressing need but these are issues to be separately addressed.  Insisting that the West Wing site be used for such purposes seems only a bit less dictatorial than insisting it be used for commercial offices.
  • Let us hope that, for the immediate future at any rate, Government House remains as it is and used as it is.  Good adaptive uses of historic buildings are very difficult to devise and it is as fitting for historic uses to be retained so long as there is also a reasonable degree of public access: this is living heritage in the best sense.

However, all these debates and ideas on what might be done with the site can come later on.  In the beginning, it’s most important just to rally round that placard that says “No Commercial Development on Government Hill”.  That simple message can and should be heard!

By Rachel Cartland

Government’s Proposed Sale of West Wing CGO to a Developer

Hong Kong citizens have a right to honesty from Government ministers and officials, who are their employees, yet that is not what they are getting with regard to Government’s proposal to sell the West Wing of the Central Government Offices to a developer.  It is frankly dishonest for Government to misrepresent the sale of a community asset for the construction of a 32-storey office building and a 5-storey shopping centre with a garden on top, as one of their 8 initiatives for ‘Conserving Central’. This is in an area quoted in their heritage consultant’s report as being “Perhaps Hong Kong’s last remaining real heritage precinct’, whose buildings “are set within one of the few ‘green lungs’ in Hong Kong.”

The atmosphere of Government Hill – with the government offices, cathedral, Government House, the former French Mission Building, Battery Path and Lower and Upper Albert Roads, as well as the adjacent Botanic Gardens and Bishop’s House – is overwhelmingly one of tranquility, dignity and harmony.  It is a wonderful resource for Hong Kong, both those who live and work in the area and those who pass through it going to work.  For a crowded city like Hong Kong, the existence of such a low-rise green area is of inestimable value.

In recognising its importance and value, the consultant urges the creation of ‘a Special Protected Area’ to acknowledge the well wooded spaces and low-rise buildings on Government Hill area as well as Hong Kong Park and the church site.  He says: “The site itself and the history associated with it is seen as being as significant, possibly more so than the buildings.”

The area has been associated with government since Hong Kong’s foundation.  In considering the site he states that “any commercial development now seems to be inappropriate” but indicates that a new public garden in the place of the bulk of the West Wing would be a fine resource for this central area of Hong Kong. Thus Government’s proposals for a commercial development are contrary to their consultant’s advice.

The consultant emphasizes the significance of the low height of Central Government Offices, noting that they were designed to protect the views from Government House. He also pointed out that this low height and surrounding vegetation link the offices with the adjacent sites to form one low-rise and green area.

It is therefore a result of its history and conscious planning that Hong Kong has inherited this marvelous low-rise green area in central Hong Kong, which our officials are now so intent on destroying.

The Government’s track record of selling a heritage building to a developer – namely the former Marine Police Headquarters at Tsim Sha Tsui is appalling, with the developer destroying the setting, greenery, history and meaning of the site purely for profit.  It appears that once a heritage building is sold, the community has little control over what happens to it.

To demolish the West Wing of the Central Government Offices and constructing the office building and shopping centre would generate huge noise and dust pollution, plus substantial waste. There would be significant demolition and construction traffic in Central over a prolonged period. The development would probably bring significant extra traffic to the area, over the small number of officials’ cars at present.  This would further worsen pollution in Central and further damage the health of our children and elderly, not to mention that of Central workers.

This would hardly be of concern to the developer, but should be to our planners. Surely planning should be about people and not just how to further enrich developers at the expense of our health, environment and heritage?  Hong Kong is already losing residents due to concerns for their children’s health and the deteriorating environment.

The proposals would demean the historic and current functions of the building and site. They would be out of place in the beautiful and tranquil setting. The height of the tower would destroy the sense of space and setting of the heritage precinct, as well as the tranquil beauty of Lower Albert Road, an area where the where the height of the West Wing is only five-storeys and is screened by trees. A glass office tower would be out of place in the area where the present buildings feature natural granite and are of fine proportion.

Widening Lower Albert Road and provision of vehicle entry and exit at the rear of the tower would destroy its tranquility and nature. Widening Ice House Street would destroy the historic masonry retaining wall, with its mature trees as well as the character of the street, the setting of the historic Duddell Street Steps.

The government’s leaflet portrays a ‘green’ frontage to the shopping centre entrance area, but experience of the destruction at the Marine Police Headquarters suggests that the community would probably get just another designer shopfront.

The area is really a community asset and this is reflected in the planning intent of its zoning of ‘Government, Institution or Community’ – that is, to serve the needs of local residents and the city. Hong Kong has little left in the way of heritage, or green lungs, particularly in the urban areas. The government should not sell such a significant and tranquil community asset for developer profit, nor should its zoning be changed from Community’ to ‘Commercial’.

Following their consultant’s recommendation, the government should, without delay, make it a ‘Special Protected Area’ to protect it from just such destruction. Officials should then have a full and meaningful consultation with the community about the use of the area. Surely Government should be looking at a vision for the whole area, which could include the chief executive relinquishing use of Government House (as did his predecessor) and opening it up, along with its beautiful gardens,  to the community as the centrepiece of a heritage and garden area stretching from Battery Path to the Botanic Gardens.

Ken Borthwick Hong Kong based Conservation Architect who has worked or advised on heritage conservation in Hong Kong, Britain and Norway


由 7 年前賤賣紅灣半島引發的梁展文事件,終於水落石出,立法會專責委員會公布調查報告,確認6 位高官失職。市民心裏明白,醜聞不僅出自退休高官的就職申報機制,而是政務官體制中「官官相衛」的文化,已到了無可救藥的地步。現今唯一的懸念,是曾特首 有沒有懲處失職官員的決心,還是任由民怨沸騰,讓雪球愈滾愈大。

紅灣半島事件使公眾損失逾10 億元,只是冰山一角的糊塗帳。傳媒在上月揭發的涉嫌賤賣尖沙嘴山事件〈註一〉,亦剛好在7 年前發生,估計公帑損失更達15 億元之巨。



2002 年6 月,政府決定公開招標賣地,把位處尖沙嘴山的前水警總部舊址發展為文物旅遊設施, 以「保育」這批有百多年歷史的建築群。2003 年5 月,長實集團的一家附屬公司以3.5 億元投得該項目,並於同年6 月簽署批地文件。

怪 事就在批地之後發生,地產商循例向屋宇署提交建築圖則審批,但圖則內歷史建築物的總樓面面積,竟然比原來標書上列明的4300平方米「發水」逾四成,達 6172 平方米。地產商建新樓「發水」,是見怪不怪的事實,但已經坐落百多年的歷史建築也能「發水」,確是聞所未聞的創舉〈註二〉。

為 了 解決紛爭,屋宇署和地政總署派員與地產商一起到地盤「度尺」,確認「發水」三成,即歷史建築物的總樓面面積為5610 平方米。怪事再次發生,政府認為這些在批地後「發水」的面積不應向地產商追補地價。若按市價推算,尖沙嘴地舖呎價逾10 萬元,即地產商可能因此「意外」而平白獲益15 億元。

根據發展局長林鄭月娥在立法會的解釋,政府庫房「少收15 億元」只是一場誤會,起因在於政府部門在「項目進行招標前並無就這組歷史建築作詳細實地測量」,但「發展商的發展權包括活化再用這些現存的總樓面面積」, 所以即使實際面積比招標文件列明的面積大增,亦「只是根據詳細測量而作出的技術修正,不存在給予發展商額外總樓面面積」。因此林鄭月娥「不認為這項招標中 有出現錯失」,自然亦不會向地產商追收差價〈註三〉。


「技 術修訂」損失15 億元發展局不厭其詳地向公眾解釋,尖沙嘴山是文物保育項目,所以總樓面面積多少,其實無關宏旨。但任何逛過Heritage 1881 的市民都清楚看到, 內裏名店林立、寸金尺土,地產商不惜挖盡每呎面積的潛力。政府「計細數」,不等於地產商會把萬多平方呎面積回饋市民,變成緬懷歷史的公共空間。

這 筆15 億元的糊塗帳,實在疑點重重:地政總署招標賣地,竟然只測量計算可新建樓面面積,卻不測量擺在眼前的現存建築物面積,是否匪夷所思?在投標前,所有投標商 可自行根據建築物的實况,估算樓面面積。究竟是否有人早着先機,明知政府「報細數」而願意比其他人出高價投地?政府官員是否一如發展局解釋,在批地後3 年才從地產商口中知悉「報細數」?政府得悉「報細數」後有否考慮終止批地合約,保障公眾利益?即使作最壞打算,政府向中標商全數賠償投標金額3.5 億元,然後重新招標,仍然有可能讓庫房多進帳十幾億元,何樂而不為?

為了減少向低收入人士支付每月600 元的交通津貼,政府不惜扭盡六壬,把按個人計算入息改為按家庭計算入息,變相懲罰兩夫婦或兩母子一起出外就職的低薪家庭,聲稱是「善用公帑」。但面對地產 商的特權,高官的一句「技術修訂」,便可以代表你和我放棄十幾億元,什麼「善用公帑」只是廢話。


尖 沙嘴 山絕非特區政府的最後一筆糊塗帳。曾班子已經宣布,意欲割售中區政府合署現址的半個政府山,把一幅百多年來用作公眾用途的歷史遺址,送進地產商口裏,重建 為高廈和商場。山上的大部分樹木與山中的美利炮台遺蹟和歷史秘道,將與尖沙嘴山同一命運,送入堆填區。這個美名為「保育中環」的地產山項目,令中環更塞車 和更污染的代價,當然不會計入政府的帳目內。

尖沙嘴山事件比紅灣半島更嚇人的地方,是內中醜聞歷經7 載才曝光。紅灣半島的焦點是高官的「延後報酬」,尖沙嘴山的焦點是特區的「地政黑洞」。直至今天,傳媒仍然無法看到最基本的文件,例如測量報告、地產商發 展圖則和補地價計算準則,更無法進入建築物內察看「發水」面積。誰代表政府進行測量? 誰出面與地產商談判?誰決定「發水」面積毋須補地價?一切諱莫如深。

「地政黑洞」內的一個決定,動輒便有過億元的上落。沒有陽光,只會腐朽,這是特區管治機器內最幽暗的角落。在下一筆糊塗帳出現之前, 立法會是否應該替公眾問責,讓一點陽光透進黑洞?

〈註一〉2010 年11 月23 日及24日《南華早報》報道。

〈註二〉根據公共專業聯盟在2010 年12 月7 日,按照「公開資料守則」,向地政總署取得的前水警總部招標文件顯示的資料。

〈註三〉見林鄭月娥局長2010 年12 月8 日在立法會的答辯。


[原刊於 2010-12-23 明報 A28頁]


「好打得」的林鄭月娥局長以保育中環之名提出發展政府山的大計。這「大計」的公眾諮詢期到11 月完結。除了保育團體和個別政黨提出反對外,公眾反應未見熱烈,這是危險的,沉默往往被認為默許。筆者嘗試在諮詢期結束前,提出一些論點,希望激起一些辯論。












刊於 [信報財經新聞] 2010-12-01 P21







特區政府今天坐擁2 萬億元的儲備,只有被批評為「孤寒財主」的壓力,絕無急於籌錢、變賣家當的迫切需要。發展局表示中環甲級寫字樓短缺,重建西翼大樓可以提供二十八萬平方呎的面積。政府最希望市民全部患上失憶症:一年前特區官員在推銷高鐵項目時,大事宣傳把西九打造成核心商業區的必要性,正因為中環發展已經飽和。西九站上蓋可提供二百八十萬呎甲級寫字樓面積,剛好是重建西翼大樓的十倍。況且,中環新海濱還預留了九十萬呎甲級寫字樓用地,硬把一棟大樓和商場塞進中環最擠塞的皇后大道中和雪廠街中間,真有凌駕性需要嗎?








根據中文大學建築系退休教授Vito Bertin 實地考證後指出,從禮賓府向北望,中區合署的東翼和西翼剛好在中軸線的左右對稱,在禮賓府與維多利亞商業城區之間,構成一個緩衝的綠化空間。當時的設計師花盡心思,利用一個空間符號,突顯出「政」「商」的區隔。若果西翼拆卸後,半個政府山淪為地產商地盤,原先分隔的空間變得支離破碎,是否也意味政府愈來愈向商賈傾斜?



1937 年10 月13 日,一位立法局議員發言,引用前總督郝德傑的觀點,指出發展政府山是「將香港一處原本最美麗的地段進行商業化劫掠」,最後殖民地政府撤回發展建議,政府山至今一直是公共資產,未有變成「地產山」。英殖民政府尚且懂得尊重歷史,難道我們對特區政府為下一代保育文化遺產的責任,不應有更高的要求嗎?

註:見政府顧問Purcell Miller Tritton《歷史及建築評估報告》第128 及13 5 頁


[刊於 《信報》2010年10月27日]

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