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URA Expands Conservation Strategy for Cantonese Verandah-type Shophouses

The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) announced today (Monday) an expansion of its conservation strategy to preserve some 48 pre-war shophouses of Cantonese verandah-type.

"This is perhaps the most ambitious initiative of the URA to preserve the heritage of our city," said Mr. Barry Cheung, Chairman of the URA.

The URA has been preserving and revitalising historical buildings under its 4R strategy, namely Redevelopment, Revitalization, Rehabilitation and pReservation.

"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," added Mr. Cheung.

The Chief Executive of the HKSAR encouraged the URA to extend its conservation work to cover pre-war shophouses in his Policy Address of October last year.

A total of 73 pre-war shophouses of Cantonese verandah style have been identified within and around URA's action areas.  Amongst them, seven have already been preserved as part of URA's various development schemes.  Another 10 that are listed as Grade 1 historical buildings by the Antiquities Advisory Board will certainly form part of the preservation initiative.

"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 overall urban regeneration strategy of the URA," Mr Cheung said.

The URA had commissioned a consultant team, with advice from Mr Tiong Kian Boon, an experienced Malaysian conservation architect.   The study looked into the need and feasibility of preserving the 56 shophouses.  The study was supervised by a Steering Committee chaired by Professor David Lung.

The study categorises the shophouses into four levels, taking into consideration their historical value, architectural merit, as well as cultural significance.

The evaluation is based on international conservation principles and standards, including UNESCO Conservation Standard, ICOMOS Conservation Guidelines, Venice Charter 1964, Nara Document on Authenticity, Burra Charter (Australia ICOMOS) and China Principles.

According to the study, 10 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 would be devised to facilitate their conservation.

Level 4

For the 18 shophouses at Level 4, the URA considers that no action is necessary as they have no significant building history and their original built forms and characteristics have been significantly altered.

Level 3

Regarding the 12 shophouses at Level 3, where single owners are involved, the URA will approach them as a priority to seek their collaboration in renovating the shophouses, with emphasis on restoration of the original architectural elements on the facades, and public safety improvements.  Existing uses will remain unchanged. For shophouses with multiple owners, the URA will try to convince them to allow the URA to restore the common areas. Financial assistance from the URA, for building restoration, will be offered.

Level 2

 As for the 16 shophouses at Level 2, the URA will attempt to acquire the properties with single ownership at market price. However, if the owners wish to retain ownership, or if there were title problems, the URA would try to convince the owners to collaborate in a comprehensive restoration plan, including the offer of taking up a long tenancy by the URA 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.

Level 1

"The URA would place greater emphasis on the 20 shophouses with outstanding heritage value as they form an important part of Hong Kong's history," Mr Cheung said.  
If it is concluded that the purely voluntary approach were unlikely feasible to protect these 20 shophouses with outstanding heritage value, particularly those with poor building conditions, the URA would consider preserving these shophouses by way of  Development Scheme Plans (DSP) under the URA Ordinance. The statutory planning process that would follow the DSP submission would allow those affected, and the community at large, to express their views to the Town Planning Board. 

Relevant information on ownership, recent transactions, estimated market values and building conditions from site observation have been gathered and analysed.  The URA will prepare a detailed work plan and resources required for the implementation of this expanded conservation strategy.