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District councillor calls monitoring of work at former Central Police Station compound ‘problematic’ after wall collapse

District councillor calls monitoring of work at former Central Police Station compound ‘problematic’ after wall collapse

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on May 30, 2016.

The collapse of a structure at the historic former Central Police Station compound is the latest – but by no means the first – controversy to hit the HK$1.8 billion restoration project that began nearly a decade ago.

The Jockey Club first submitted a proposal to revitalise the compound in 2007, but the project has since become the target of much criticism regarding its design, management and a perceived lack of transparency and delays during the tendering process.

In 2014, the club announced it would be taking on operation of the project itself after a selection panel failed to choose a winner out of three cultural groups bidding to run the monument.

Despite critics expressing concerns about the initial design, the project received widespread support among the public during a six-month consultation in 2008.

“I think there was criticism regarding having the club as the operator ... It’s not an expert in modern art or in running a project like this,” Central district councillor Ted Hui Chi-fung said. “The selection process was not very much discussed in public and was not discussed in the council either, so at that stage there wasn’t much the public or the council could do.”

The former police station complex, comprised of 16 historical buildings, sits alongside Old Bailey Street, Hollywood Road and Arbuthnot Road.

The revitalisation project is a joint venture between the government and the Jockey Club. It will see 37 per cent of the site used as a showcase for heritage and contemporary art, 27 per cent used for commercial and entertainment purposes, and the remainder set aside for public access and other facilities.

The site is to be expanded to cover 300,000 sq ft.

Declared a monument in 1995, the compound is comprised of three structures – the former Central Police Station, the former Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison. The police station, built in 1864, was Hong Kong’s first.

The magistracy is thought to have been erected as early as 1847, while the prison was built in 1841 as the city’s first jail and housed illegal immigrants and other prisoners.

According to Hui, the Jockey Club has been in close contact with the district council in the past few months and engaged in many discussions on the project’s design.

Yet the collapse of the building suggests more needs to be done to ensure the renovations are properly monitored, he said.

“Every change or modification needs approval ... from the Antiquities and Monuments Office. So it’s a very strict procedure,” Hui said. “I personally believe the monitoring job by the AMO and perhaps by the Jockey Club themselves is problematic. We need to look at preservation policy itself.”

Concerns have also been raised regarding the balance between cultural heritage conservation and commercialisation.

But Yu Ka-sing, a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s division of architectural conservation programmes, said the fact the club was being selective about leasing the space within the compound suggested it would prioritise the promotion of Hong Kong culture.

“I’m not too worried about them using the heritage site just to make money,” Yu said.

1841: Victoria Prison built

1847: Central Magistracy erected

1864: Central Police Station built

1995: Compound declared a monument

2007: Jockey Club submits plan to revitalise the compound

2007-2008: Public consultation shows support for the project

2008: Government partners with Jockey Club on the scheme

2010: Jockey Club introduces revised design, and layout plan is approved by Town Planning Board

2012: Renovation work begins

2014: Jockey Club announces it will take on operation of the compound after selection panel fails to choose an operator

2016: The project is expected to be completed later this year

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