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Linkage established between monument declaration and historic buildings grading system

The Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) endorsed at its meeting today (November 26) a proposal to establish a formal relationship between the statutory monument declaration system and the administrative grading system for historic buildings of the AAB.

Under the present system, the Antiquities Authority, after consultation with the AAB and with the approval of the Chief Executive, may declare a place or a building as monument under section 3(1) of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Cap 53).

On the other hand, over the years, the AAB with the assistance of the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) has been grading historic buildings, based on an administrative system which classifies buildings into Grade I, II and III. There has been no automatic linkage or direct correlation between the grading system and the monument declaration system.

"The introduction of a clear and transparent linkage between graded buildings and the statutory monument declaration system is timely as the AAB will shortly complete the grading of some 1,440 buildings in the territory after years of hard work," a Development Bureau spokesman said.

Under the endorsed arrangements:

* the list of Grade I buildings, defined as "buildings of outstanding merit, which every effort should be made to preserve if possible" will be regarded as providing a pool of highly valuable heritage buildings for consideration by the Antiquities Authority as to whether some of these may have reached the "high threshold" of monuments to be put under statutory protection;

* the Antiquities Authority is committed to actively considering each and every of the Grade I buildings for possible monument declaration. Given the resources required, the Authority will naturally have to prioritise the list of Grade I buildings for consideration, based on such factors as the buildings' heritage significance, demolition risks, the owners' and the public's aspirations, and ownership of the buildings; and

* the Commissioner for Heritage's Office will take the initiative to inform private owners of Grade I buildings the status and historical significance of their buildings; their eligibility to apply for financial assistance from Government for maintenance of their buildings; the likely Government intervention in case the buildings are under demolition threat, such as proposed monument declaration by the Antiquities Authority in order to provide immediate but temporary protection to their buildings; and a willingness to discuss with the owners possible economic incentives for the preservation of their buildings on a case-by-case basis depending on the merits of each case.

The spokesman explained that such a linkage would not oblige the Antiquities Authority to declare all Grade I buildings as monuments. The building to be declared as a monument must reach the "high threshold", and other factors will also need to be taken into account.

"The new framework has clearly defined the role of AAB and a relationship between grading and monument declaration. AAB will play an unequivocal role in offering advice to the Authority on monument declaration and to help provide a shortlist of candidates for monument declaration based on its administrative grading system.”

"It will promote better public understanding of the work of AAB and the relationship between the monument declaration system and the grading system," the spokesman said.

It is estimated that the initial results of grading of the 1,440 historic buildings will be available by early 2009.

Ends/Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Issued at HKT 20:30