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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

賤賣尖沙嘴山的糊塗帳

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。

歷史建築「發水」奇聞

 

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〉。

假若你無法明白政府的邏輯,只要把政府和地產商的位置對調,你便更加明白政府邏輯的荒謬:如果地產商在買地收樓後,發現樓面面積比政府標書少了(而非多了)三成,他們會一聲不吭,還是不惜對簿公堂、向政府追討損失?

「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。

「地政黑洞」不見天日

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。

作者是公民黨副主席

[原刊於 2010-12-23 明報 A28頁]

幹掉政府山西座所為何事?

「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。

為四大目標何須大興土木

林鄭局長提出的明明是發展項目,卻偏偏註明是保育項目。可能這些年來,所有市區的發展都是先全部拆卸,後重建。沒有全部拆卸而重建的,都叫保育項目!

可能這新詞彙以廣為人接受,只是筆者糊塗,未跟上潮流。但容讓我繼續糊塗,叫它發展項目,林鄭局長提議拆卸政府山西座,賣掉政府山一半土地,把這些土地用途改為綜合發展區,讓發展商可用盡地積比,建造一幢三十二層高的商業大和一個大型的地下商場。發展項目的確有保育部分,一半的政府山原封不動保留,這實在皇恩浩蕩,體恤民情,我等蟻民理應笑納。

根據發展局的單張「中區政府合署新貌─回復綠色中環」介紹,發展項目會有四大目標:一、加強綠化;二、改善行人連繫;三、保存文物區;和四、共融的建築設計。將來市民來到這裏,如進入沙漠的綠洲,從動植物公園,穿過這裏,到遮打道花園,綠草如茵。下亞厘畢道、雪廠街和皇后大道中,連成一片,街人穿插在大廈和天橋之間,無比方便。保留了的中座和東座,連同附近的禮賓府和聖約翰座堂,將成為中西區文物徑。而新建築提供四萬二千平方米的辦公室和商場,為這區註入多姿多彩的新氣象。新舊融合的發展,令人無比嚮往。

我們這些年紀不輕的人有一個毛病,近的記不清,遠的事物卻好像還清楚。港英年代,政府山中區政府合署並無高過人頭的鐵圍牆,更無幾十個守衛把守各個通道,人們直行直過,亦可通過西座的電梯,從下亞厘畢道到皇后大道中。從上而下的綠色走廊一直存在,四通八達的行人網絡在董先生當政時被截斷。其實,只要把中區政府合署回復港英年代的開放,把人民的地方還給人民享用,發展局所講的四大目標不是全部都有了嗎?何須拆卸西座!

要達到發展局的四大目標,若保留西座,第三和四目標已不是問題。至於加強綠化,把紫檀樹下的石屎鋪成草坪,讓兒童奔跑玩耍,人們在樹下看書、乘涼、野餐,不是很寫意嗎?若能把東、中和西座的地面層完全打通,人們可以從四方八面穿梭而過,那比起拆卸西座重建,不是更能改善行人連繫嗎?
引發展商入夥更划算?

或者林鄭局長都是一片好心,拆了西座,賣掉半個政府山,才可引發展商入夥,提供資金和管理,永續的保育政府山。否則,政府每年單單為這些物業打掃油油,都是負擔。真是巧婦難為無米之炊!

錢,確是坐擁千億的特區政府天天憂慮的問題,哪一個部門不是為錢發愁?把西座拆卸重建可提供用地面積約五千七百平方米,總樓面面積四萬二千平方米。不過,現時西座的用地約一萬平方米,共十二層,即約十二萬平方米總樓面面積,比將來的新樓面積大一倍!若真要引入私人營運,把西座原汁原味租出或賣出,是不是更為划算?

可能筆者的數學太差,沒有發展局巧婦的特質。

幹掉政府山西座,所為何事?請林鄭局長找些更好的理據賜教。

作者為理工大學副教授、長春社理事熊永達

刊於 [信報財經新聞] 2010-12-01 P21

政府山變「地產山」疑點重重

現今中區政府總部所在的「政府山」,是殖民地政府至今百多年來政治權力核心的所在地。當中人與物的變遷,與香港發展盛衰的關係之大,沒有任何其他史遺址能望其項背。

例如政府總部西翼的現址在百多年前是一組「美利炮台」,負有鎮守維多利亞港的重任;政府山中間更內藏四通八達的隧道網,連接港督府、政府辦公樓與中環商業區,可供當時的官員作防空走難之用;二次大戰淪陷時期曾遭日軍徵作秘密軍事用途。直至今天,連接特首住所禮賓府的一段隧道圖則,仍然列作不准外洩的機密。

林鄭計劃匪夷所思

上月,發展局局長林鄭月娥公布了一個令人匪夷所思的計劃:變賣半個政府山作商業用途,將最富歷史價值的公共資產交到私人發展商手裏,公眾永久喪失業權。

表面看來,政府的發展計劃冠冕堂皇——保留政府總部中座和東翼,只拆卸西翼大樓,新建的約四十層高商較附近的大樓還低幾米,開放更多公眾休憩用地,更多綠化,實在是發展與保育之間最理想的「平衡」。然而,實情是否如此?

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?

胡亂改建掏空歷史

 

根據現今國際上通用的《中國文物保護準則》第十八條,任何歷史遺跡「必須原址保護。只有在發生不可抗拒的自然災害或因國家重大建設工程的需要,使遷移保護成為唯一有效的手段時,才可以原狀遷移,易地保護。」難道特區政府認為,向地產商提供甲級寫字樓,是國家重大工程還是不可抗拒的自然災害?

另一個疑團是有關工程的規模。政府提供的圖則顯示新建的大樓只在地盤西面角落,佔地比現在西翼大樓還小,周邊全是綠油油的山坡。細看之下,原來出賣的地盤是大樓用地的四倍,佔去半個政府山,用來興建多層地下商場和停車場,一如前水警總部的尖沙咀山。今天你走進Heritage1881,給周圍的名店震懾之餘,還有爬「山」的感覺嗎?

你還能看見已遭淘空挖走的隧洞遺嗎?若果曾班子一意孤行,政府山將來會經歷同樣命運,屆時挖走的不只是留存了百多年的隧道網絡,還可能有美利炮台和其他外界不知曉的古蹟遺址。

政府計劃拆卸中區合署西翼大樓所持的理由,是它的建築價值不高,可惜這個結論剛好與政府委託的古蹟專家意見相反。專家報告指出「這群大樓的建築質素很高,是香港摩登辦公大樓設計的起始階段和五十年代建築設計的典範」,以及「毫無疑問,善用這些大樓完全可行」【註】。專家報告明確指出,「若果必須進行重建」,那便惟有選擇相對中座和東座價值較低的西座大樓。但誰有能耐在專家撰寫報告時加添了一個「必須重建」的前提條件?相信只能是支付顧問費的發展局,而不會是真正付鈔的廣大市民。

「市民中心」更有價值

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?

其他大大小小的疑團多不勝數,例如重建計劃須擴闊下亞厘畢道以方便新大樓出入,但新增車流量始終會使花園道、德輔道中和雪廠街比現時更擠塞,這是否無法解決的死症?淘空政府山和拆卸西翼大樓的幾十萬噸泥頭,如何能從中環運走而不致天怒人怨?早已超標的中環路邊空氣質素,進一步變壞後又會增加多少提前死亡和入院個案?為何政府不進行考古發掘,在未有確定古蹟遺址的細節前便建議把業權賣給私人發展商?為何政府聲稱諮詢公眾,卻不開放政府山和政府合署讓市民參觀,使公眾蒙在鼓裏,無從討論?

其實,若果政府山能蛻變成一個開放的「市民中心」,西翼大樓可以有很多既切合市民需要,亦尊重歷史原貌的用途,例如政府檔案署的公眾閱覽室、公眾諮詢常設會場、供民間團體使用的展覽館等等。

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

作者為公民黨副主席黎廣德

[刊於 《信報》2010年10月27日]

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