The Urban Renewal Authority will expand its conservation strategy to preserve 48 Cantonese verandah-type pre-war shophouses. The authority's Chairman Barry Cheung said this is perhaps the authority's most ambitious initiative to preserve Hong Kong's heritage.
"We are going to take up the challenge of preserving shophouses that have witnessed the development of Hong Kong's architectural and cultural landscape, and we will adopt a strategy that is based on a voluntary or market approach as far as practicable. Only if it is absolutely necessary, compulsory acquisition will be considered," he said.
Seventy-three pre-war shophouses of Cantonese verandah style have been identified within and around the authority's action areas, with seven already preserved as part of the authority's development schemes. Another 10 listed as Grade 1 historical buildings will form part of the preservation initiative.
Mr Cheung said: "Most of the other 56 shophouses of Cantonese verandah-style do not have historical grading. However, they represent a part of history in the development of Hong Kong and may carry certain cultural significance in their respective localities, making it worthwhile to dedicate appropriate public resources as part of the authority's overall urban regeneration strategy."
According to the authority's study, these shophouses have been classified into four levels, taking into consideration their historical value, architectural merit, and cultural significance. Ten shophouses are classified as Level 1 (Outstanding Heritage Value), 16 as Level 2 (High Heritage Value), 12 as Level 3 (Medium Heritage Value) and 18 as Level 4 (Low Heritage Value). Together with the other 10 Grade 1 buildings, the total number of shophouses with outstanding heritage value is 20.
"Since the primary objective of the whole project is for heritage preservation rather than for the urgent improvement of living and environmental conditions, a strategy that encourages a voluntary or market approach in general would be more appropriate than one of compulsory resumption," Mr Cheung said.
After taking into account the heritage value of the buildings and practical issues, such as history and pattern of ownership, market values, physical constraints for restoration, potential for adaptive re-use and the presence of any owners' corporation, different approaches will be devised to facilitate their conservation.
For the 18 shophouses at Level 4, the authority considers no action is necessary as they have no significant building history and their original built forms and characteristics have been significantly altered.
Regarding the 12 shophouses at Level 3, where single owners are involved, the authority will approach them as a priority to seek their collaboration in renovating the shophouses, with emphasis on restoring the original architectural elements on the facades, and public safety upgrades. Existing uses will stay. For shophouses with multiple owners they will be convinced to allow the authority to restore the common areas. Financial assistance for building restoration will be offered.
For the 16 shophouses at Level 2 the authority will acquire the properties with single ownership at market price. However, if the owners wish to retain ownership, or if there were title problems, the authority would convince the owners to collaborate in a comprehensive restoration plan, including the offer of taking up a long tenancy by the authority with a provision for sub-letting for adaptive re-use. For those Level 2 shophouses that are under multiple ownership, assistance for general repairs of common areas would be offered to the owners if voluntary acquisition of whole blocks were not possible.
Mr Cheung said: "The authority will place greater emphasis on the 20 shophouses with outstanding heritage value as they form an important part of Hong Kong's history."
If a purely voluntary approach is deemed unlikely to work to protect these 20 shophouses with outstanding heritage value - particularly those with poor building conditions - the authority will consider preserving them through development scheme plans. The statutory planning process that would follow the development scheme plan submission will allow those affected and the community at large to air their views to the Town Planning Board.
A detailed work plan and resources required for the implementation of this expanded conservation strategy will be prepared.
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