For information
on 14 December 1998

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Heritage Preservation: Review of Legislation and Policy


This paper informs Members of the progress of the review of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance and the concurrent policy review.


2. Work of heritage preservation in Hong Kong is mainly the task of the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) within the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB). It carries out its duty with the expert advice and support from the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) and its three specialist committees.

3. AMO starts its work by first identifying and recording items of archaeological and historical interest. So far AMO has recorded over 600 historical buildings and some 200 archaeological sites. This list of recorded items are distributed to all lands and works groups of departments. These departments are requested to give AMO as much advance notice as possible whenever there are project or planning proposals affecting the sites or buildings. This will enable full consideration for preservation being given to an affected item and to organize mitigation and rescue excavation when necessary. AMO, through the engagement of local, Mainland and overseas consultants, is conducting two territory-wide surveys on archaeological sites and historical buildings respectively. Upon their conclusion early next year, AMO will be able to achieve a comprehensive inventory of the surviving heritage base in Hong Kong and to devise a strategy for their protection and conservation.

4. Significant items from AMO's record are selected for formal declaration at the recommendation of the AAB and with the Chief Executive's approval. AMO will then seek the necessary fundings to undertake full restoration and repairs of these declared monuments. Successful examples include Tai Fu Tai in San Tin, Liu Man Shek Tong in Sheung Shui, Kun Lung Wai in Fanling, etc. Currently, AMO is conducting two major projects, i.e. King Law Ka Shuk in Tai Po and Cheung Ancestral Hall in Yuen Long. After restoration, these monuments are open to public viewing.

5. AMO also runs its own heritage education programme which ranges from public lectures and seminars, guided visits, workshops and conferences, exhibitions and pamphlet productions, etc. Since 1997, it also operates its own Heritage Resource Centre in Tsimshatsui, produces a quarterly heritage bulletin and forms a voluntary Friends of Heritage group to assist in the promotion and protection of our heritage. Jointly with the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust (LWHT) and the AAB, it organized the very successful all-year-round Year of the Heritage project last year. It also assists many District Boards (such as North, Wanchai, Eastern, Sai Kung, etc.) in producing popular handbooks on district antiquities.


6. The legislation directly relevant to the protection and preservation of the local cultural heritage is the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Chapter 53) ("the Ordinance"). The Ordinance which commenced operation since 1 January 1976 has been enacted "to provide for the preservation of objects of historical, archaeological and palaeontological interest". It provides for two main areas of heritage protection:-

  1. declaration of monuments (which include historical buildings, archaeological or palaeonotogical sites) by notice in the gazette with the approval of the Chief Executive; and

  2. subjecting archaeological excavations etc. to a system of licensing.
7. The Ordinance does not provide for compensation to private owners upon their buildings being declared but it does require declaration to be made only with the approval of the Chief Executive (Section 3) and that a one-month notice must be served on owners of private properties stating the Authority's intention to declare (Section 4). Owners can object by way of petition to the Chief Executive and subsequently the Chief Executive-in-Council. Compensation may only be paid when the owners are refused a Section 6 permit in relation to contracts entered before the service of notice, and, in default of agreement, the amount of compensation is to be determined by the District Court (Section 8). So far, 67 declarations of monuments have been made.

8. Other legislation which supplements the work of heritage preservation, includes the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust Ordinance (Chapter 425) and the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (Chapter 499). They have come into operation in 1992 and 1998 respectively.


9. Given the passage of time and the changing socio-economic conditions, it is considered timely to conduct a review of the effectiveness and adequacy of both the current policy and the Ordinance. The HAB has consulted the views of the AAB and its three Committees on the three areas of archaeological heritage, historical buildings and heritage education. These issues have been discussed at a number of regular and special meetings. A number of problems and weaknesses, such as the difficulty in obtaining private landowner's consent in declaration, lack of public awareness, inadequate local expertise in conservation work, etc., are being identified.

10. The difficulty in obtaining private landowner's consent for declaration mostly stems from the fact that declaration will entail curtailment of private property rights. We have to consider the need for adequate compensation. Since 1981, to partly overcome this problem especially in respect of historic clan properties, we have adopted the deemed monument formula. Under this formula, important historical buildings in private clan ownership may be deemed as monuments at the recommendation of the AAB and with the approval of the Chief Executive, without actual declaration. The Finance Committee of the Legislative Council approved in September 1981 that if the landowners of deemed monuments agreed in writing, for public record:-

  1. not to demolish or alter the buildings and to maintain the designated use (in practice for a period of 10 to 15 years); and

  2. to allow reasonable public access,
public expenditure could then be incurred to restore and maintain the deemed monuments. There are at present eight deemed monuments. However, deemed monuments do not have lasting effect or are legally protected. We have therefore to explore other alternatives or incentives to attract landowners in agreeing to declaration.

11. Apart from declaration of monuments, the administrative arrangement for advance notice to be given to AMO of project and planning proposals affecting an item on the list of archaeological sites and historical buildings maintained by it allows for the full consideration within the Administration of the merit or demerit before a decision is made to demolish or retain a heritage item on the list. We note that in some countries this is done through a statutory listing procedure, especially for historical buildings, under town and country planning mechanism. We will explore such possibility, e.g. under the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance.

12. On the lack of public awareness, there is an obvious need to intensify our efforts in heritage education. We have plans to establish more heritage trails so as to stimulate focussed interest. Possible locations include Yuen Long (Kam Tin), Fanling (Lung Yeuk Tau) and Phases II and III of the Central and Western Heritage Trail. We have also plans to completely renovate the Heritage Resource Centre so as to make heritage information more readily accessible to the public. We are also exploring the possibility of establishing more heritage resource centres elsewhere in Hong Kong. The second intake for the Friends of Heritage will commence shortly. We will continue identifying further opportunities for co-operation with the LWHT, AAB, District Boards and other bodies.


13. We will consult other bureaux and departments on those and other issues detailed in paragraphs 10 to 12 above. We will continue to seek AAB's advice before formulating our new policy objectives for heritage preservation. Thereafter we shall commence indepth review.

Home Affairs Bureau
December 1998